In Germany, cold-loving molecules from the Earth’s poles can act as green detergents, fuel additives, and other applications. Researchers think the biosurfactants help bacteria separate the complex substrates they feed on into easy-to-metabolize droplets.
According to the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences press release, biosurfactants are safe to release into the environment and can be produced using affordable waste products such as olive oil byproduct and cooking oils. They also work in lower concentrations, so less is needed to get the same job done. But the ones produced by extremophilic bacteria have an added bonus by working at freezing temperatures.
This stability has huge implications for how these molecules could be used. Biodiesel, for example, could improve its sluggish flow in cold temperatures if a biosurfactant is added. Cold-active biosurfactant detergents would mean we could go green by reducing washing temperatures, without worrying that our clothes wouldn’t get clean. These biosurfactants could also be used to harvest natural gas from cage-like ice crystals called gas hydrates or to clean up pollution spills in colder regions of the ocean.