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Scientific classification

Yakimov et al. 1998
Type species
Alcanivorax borkumensis

Alcanivorax balearicus
Alcanivorax borkumensis
Alcanivorax dieselolei
Alcanivorax gelatiniphagus[1]
Alcanivorax hongdengensis
Alcanivorax jadensis[1]
Alcanivorax marinus
Alcanivorax mobilis[1]
Alcanivorax pacificus
Alcanivorax venustensis
Alcanivorax xenomutans[1]

Alcanivorax borkumensis is an alkane-degrading marine bacterium which naturally propagates and becomes predominant in crude-oil-containing seawater when nitrogen and phosphorus nutrients are supplemented.[2][3]


A. borkumensis is a rod-shaped bacterium without flagella that obtains its energy primarily from consuming alkanes (a type of hydrocarbon). It is aerobic, meaning it uses oxygen to gain energy, and it is halophilic, meaning it tends to live in environments that contain salt, such as salty ocean water. It is also Gram-negative, which essentially means it has a relatively thin cell wall. It is also nonmotile; however, other organisms that appear to be in the same genus are motile through flagella.[4][5]


The genome of A. borkumensis is a single circular chromosome that contains 3,120,143 base pairs. It is highly adapted to degrading petroleum oil. For example, a certain sequence on the genome codes for the degradation of a certain range of alkanes. The A. borkumensis genome has many sequences that each code for a different type of alkane, allowing it to be highly adaptable and versatile. Its genome also contains instructions for the formation of biosurfactants which aid in the process of degradation. To deal with external threats, the A. borkumensis genome also codes for several defensive mechanisms. Coping with high concentrations of sodium ions (i.e. in ocean water), and protecting against the UV radiation experienced on the surface of the earth are both important for the A. borkumensis bacteria, and its genome contains ways to solve both of these problems.[6]


A. borkumensis is found naturally in seawater environments. It is more common in oceanic areas containing petroleum oil (whether from spills, natural fields, or other sources), although it can be found in small amounts in unpolluted water. It has been found across the world in various locations both in coastal environments and oceanic environments. It also can flourish in areas with heavy tides and other sea related currents/flow. It is found only on or near the surface of water. A. borkumensis can live in salinities ranging from 1.0-12.5% and in temperatures ranging from 4-35 °C.[5] The abundance of A. borkumensis in oil-affected environments is because the bacteria use the compounds in oil as a source of energy, thus populations of A. borkumensis naturally flourish at oil spills or other similar locations. A. borkumensis outcompetes other species of the Alcanivorax genus, likely due to its highly flexible DNA and metabolism. A. borkumensis also outcompetes other alkane-degrading organisms such as Acinetobacter venetianus. After a certain period of time, an oily and saline environment containing A. borkumensis and Acinetobacter venetianus would eventually become dominated by A. borkumensis because A. borkumensis can consume a wider variety of alkanes than other known species.[7]


A. borkumensis primarily uses alkanes as its source of energy/carbon, but it can use a few other organic compounds. Unlike most other cells, it cannot consume more common substances such as sugars or amino acids as a source of energy. This is due to the lack of genes that code for active or passive carbohydrate transporters, hence the inability to consume monomeric sugars.[8]

In a A. borkumensis, a number of different enzymes are tasked with oxidizing alkane molecules. The aerobic metabolism of alkanes is carried out through the terminal alkane oxidation pathway, where monooxygenases initiate the oxidation of terminal carbons. This sequential pathway first produces alcohols, then alcohol and aldehyde dehydrogenases, and ultimately aldehydes and fatty acids, respectively.[9]

Following an oil spill, huge imbalances in the carbon/nitrogen and carbon/phosphorus ratios can be observed. For this, A. borkumensis have a myriad of transport proteins that allow fast uptake of key nutrients that are limiting in the environment.[8] To increase the growth rate of a population of A. borkumensis bacteria, phosphorus and nitrogenous compounds can be added to the environment. These substances act as a fertilizer for the bacteria and help them grow at an increased rate.

A. borkumensis and biosurfactants[edit]

When A. borkumensis bacteria use alkanes or pyruvate as their source of energy, each cell forms a biosurfactant. A biosurfactant is an extra layer of material that forms along the cell membrane. The substances that make up the biosurfactant of A. borkumensis can reduce the surface tension of water, which helps with the degradation of oil. They are also emulsifiers, which further serve to create the oil/water emulsion, making oil more soluble. A. borkumensis forms a biofilm around an oil droplet in seawater and proceeds to use biosurfactants and metabolism to degrade the oil into a water-soluble substance.[10]

Biotechnological applications[edit]

Role in oil biodegradation[edit]

Petroleum oil is toxic for most life forms and pollution of the environment by oil causes major ecological problems. A considerable amount of petroleum oil entering the sea is eliminated by the microbial biodegradation activities of microbial communities. As a recently discovered hydrocarbonoclastic, A. borkumensis is capable of degrading oil in seawater environments. Hydrocarbonoclastic has the root ‘clastic’ meaning it can divide something into parts (in this case hydrocarbons). Crude oil, or petroleum, is predominantly made up of hydrocarbons, a product that consists of a long chain of carbon atoms attached to hydrogen atoms. Whereas most organisms use sugars or amino acids for their source of carbon/energy, A. borkumensis uses alkanes, a type of hydrocarbon, in its metabolic process. This diet allows A. borkumensis to flourish in marine environments that have been affected by oil spills. Through its metabolism, A. borkumensis can break down oil into harmless compounds. This ability makes this particular species a major potential source for bioremediation of oil-polluted marine environments.

Potential as anti-oil spill agent[edit]

Oil spills can occur during transportation of oil or during extraction. Such spills may dump significant quantities of oil into the ocean and pollute the environment, affecting ecosystems near and far.

Normally, many years are needed for an ecosystem to recover fully (if at all) from an oil spill, so scientists have been looking into ways to expedite the cleanup of areas affected by an oil spill. Most efforts so far use direct human involvement/labor to physically remove the oil from the environment. However, A. borkumensis presents a possible alternative. Since A. borkumensis naturally breaks down oil molecules to a nonpolluting state, it would help ecosystems to quickly recover from an oil spill disaster. The organisms also naturally grow in oil-contaminated seawater, thus are a native species. If the process A. borkumensis uses to break down oil could be sped up or made more efficient, this would aid recovering ecosystems. Some examples include encouraging the growth of A. borkumensis (through phosphorus and nitrogen fertilization) so more of them are breaking down oil, or encouraging the metabolism of A. borkumensis so they metabolize faster and more.[11]

Potential in biopolymer production[edit]

By disrupting an acyl-coenzyme A (CoA) thioesterase gene, Sabirova and colleagues were able to mutate the organism to hyper-produce polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA). They were then able to recover the large amounts of PHA that were released by mutant Alcanivorax from the culture mediums with relative ease.[9] Before, costly and environmentally dangerous solvents had to be used in order to retrieve PHA from intracellular granules. This allows for production of environmentally friendly polymers in factories that utilized mutant Alcanivorax.[8]


  1. ^ a b c d Parte, A.C. "Alcanivorax".
  2. ^ Martins VAP; et al. (2008). "Genomic Insights into Oil Biodegradation in Marine Systems". Microbial Biodegradation: Genomics and Molecular Biology. Caister Academic Press. ISBN 978-1-904455-17-2.
  3. ^ Kasai Yuki (2002). "Predominant growth of Alcanivorax strains in oil-contaminated and nutrient-supplemented sea water". Environmental Microbiology. 4 (3): 141–147. doi:10.1046/j.1462-2920.2002.00275.x.
  4. ^ Fernandez-Martinez, Javier, et al. "Description of Alcanivorax venustensis sp. nov. and reclassification of Fundibacter jadensis DSM 12178T (Bruns and Berthe-Corti 1999) as Alcanivorax jadensis comb. nov., members of the emended genus Alcanivorax." International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology 53 (2003): 331–338.
  5. ^ a b Yakimov, Michail M., et al. "Alcanivorax Borkumensis gen. nov., sp. nov., A New, Hydrocarbon-degrading And Surfactant-producing Marine Bacterium." International Journal of Systematic Bacteriology 48 (1998): 339–348.
  6. ^ [1], Schneiker, Susanne, et al. "Genome Sequence of the Ubiquitous Hydrocarbon-degrading Marine Bacterium Alcanivorax Borkumensis." Nature Biotechnology 24.8 (2006): 997-1004.
  7. ^ Hara Akihiro (2003). "Alcanivorax which prevails in oil-contaminated seawater exhibits broad substrate specificity for alkane degradation". Environmental Microbiology. 5 (9): 746–753. doi:10.1046/j.1468-2920.2003.00468.x.
  8. ^ a b c Yakimov, Michail M; Timmis, Kenneth N; Golyshin, Peter N (June 2007). "Obligate oil-degrading marine bacteria". Current Opinion in Biotechnology. 18 (3): 257–266. CiteSeerX doi:10.1016/j.copbio.2007.04.006. PMID 17493798.
  9. ^ a b Sabirova, Julia S.; Ferrer, Manuel; Lünsdorf, Heinrich; Wray, Victor; Kalscheuer, Rainer; Steinbüchel, Alexander; Timmis, Kenneth N.; Golyshin, Peter N. (2006-12-15). "Mutation in a "tesB-Like" Hydroxyacyl-Coenzyme A-Specific Thioesterase Gene Causes Hyperproduction of Extracellular Polyhydroxyalkanoates by Alcanivorax borkumensis SK2". Journal of Bacteriology. 188 (24): 8452–8459. doi:10.1128/jb.01321-06. ISSN 0021-9193. PMC 1698222. PMID 16997960.
  10. ^ Abbasi, Akram; Bothun, Geoffrey D.; Bose, Arijit (2018-04-16). "Attachment of Alcanivorax borkumensis to Hexadecane-In-Artificial Sea Water Emulsion Droplets". Langmuir. 34 (18): 5352–5357. doi:10.1021/acs.langmuir.8b00082. ISSN 0743-7463. PMID 29656641.
  11. ^ Yakimov, Michail M.; Golyshin, Peter N.; Lang, Siegmund; Moore, Edward R. B.; Abraham, Wolf-Rainer; Lünsdorf, Heinrich; Timmis, Kenneth N. (1998). "Alcanivorax borkumensis gen. nov., sp. nov., a new, hydrocarbon-degrading and surfactant-producing marine bacterium". International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology. 48 (2): 339–348. doi:10.1099/00207713-48-2-339.

External links[edit]