Assessing the bioremediation potential of algal species indigenous to oil sands process-affected waters on mixtures of oil sands acid extractable organics
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Surface mining extraction of bitumen from oil sand in Alberta, Canada results in the accumulation of oil sands process-affected water (OSPW). In attempts to maximize water recycling, and because its constituents are recognized as being toxic, OSPW is retained in settling basins. Consequently, research efforts are currently focused on developing remediation strategies capable of detoxifying OSPW to allow for eventual release. One potential bioremediation strategy proposes to utilize phytoplankton native to the Alberta oil sand region to sequester, break down, or modify the complex oil sands acid extractable organic (AEO) mixtures in OSPW. Preliminary attempts to quantify changes in total oil sands AEO concentration in test solutions by ESI-MS following a 14-day algal remediation period revealed the presence of unknown organic acids in control samples, likely released by the phytoplankton strains and often of the same atomic mass range as the oil sands AEO under investigation. To address the presence of these "biogenic" organic acids in test samples, ESI-MS in MRM mode was utilized to identify oil sands AEO "marker ions" that were a) present within the tested oil sands AEO extract and b) unique to the oil sands AEO extract only (e.g. atomic masses different from biogenic organic acids). Using this approach, one of the 21 tested algal strains, Stichococcus sp. 1, proved capable of significantly reducing the AEO marker ion concentration at test concentrations of 10, 30, and 100mgL(-1). This result, along with the accelerated growth rate and recalcitrance of this algal strain with exposure to oil sands AEO, suggests the strong potential for the use of the isolated Stichococcus sp. 1 as a candidate for bioremediation strategies.
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