Arabian Gulf University Researcher Discovers Technology of Biological Removal of Sulphur from Fossil Fuels

Arabian Gulf University (AGU) Researcher Ms. Sara Ahmed Al Khalaf discovered the technology of biological removal of sulphur from fossil fuels in an environmentally safe and economical way.

Despite being known since several decades ago, this technology had not been applied previously in industry, despite much research over the past three decades, due to a lack of deep understanding of metabolic mechanisms and vital functions in bacteria, which remove sulphur from fuel.

In her PhD thesis in environmental biotechnology, titled “Detection of Genes Unrelated to the 4S Mechanism that Produce Special and Essential Factors for the Biological Removal of Sulphur from Fossil Fuels”, Ms. Al Khalaf used random mutagenesis technology in the bacterium “Rhodococcus qingshengii IGTS8” to identify genes and metabolic mechanisms that could affect the ability of these bacteria to remove sulphur. As a result, a group of 16,000 mutant strains were produced.

Ms. Al Khalaf, whose study was supervised by Dr. Wael Ahmed Elmoslimany, found that 9 mutant strains grew differently from the parent strain when examined in a food medium containing the dibenzothiophene compound as a sulphur source. These strains also showed different growth patterns when compared to the parent strain in a medium containing magnesium sulphate or a mixture of magnesium sulphate and dibenzothiophene.

Further analysis revealed that these mutant strains produced and consumed varying amounts of inorganic sulphates. Gas separation analysis and mass spectrometry also showed differences in the consumption of dibenzothiophene and the production of dihydroxybiphenyl, the final product of the 4S pathway used to remove sulphur.

She further explained: “The rate of desulphurisation was found to be very low compared to the corresponding rate in the parent strain. Polymerase chain reaction was used to identify the genes in which random mutations had occurred in the mutant strains. A unique and exclusive DNA fragment was produced for mutant strain No. 8018, which was around 5,000 double bases in length. Part of these bases was identified, and analysis indicated that the random mutation occurred in a group of genes for hypothetical proteins whose function is not known.”

Additionally, Ms. Al Khalaf emphasised the importance of random mutagenesis technology as an effective tool in studying biological systems in desulphurisation bacteria. The study showed that the mutant strains contained random mutations in different genes, which may directly or indirectly affect the desulphurisation pattern. These mutated genes may belong to different types of biological functions and metabolic mechanisms.

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