High- and low-molecular-mass microbial surfactants
- Cite this article as:
- Rosenberg, E. & Ron, E. Appl Microbiol Biotechnol (1999) 52: 154. doi:10.1007/s002530051502
Microorganisms synthesize a wide variety of high- and low-molecular-mass bioemulsifiers. The low-molecular-mass bioemulsifiers are generally glycolipids, such as trehalose lipids, sophorolipids and rhamnolipids, or lipopeptides, such as surfactin, gramicidin S and polymyxin. The high-molecular-mass bioemulsifiers are amphipathic polysaccharides, proteins, lipopolysaccharides, lipoproteins or complex mixtures of these biopolymers. The low-molecular-mass bioemulsifiers lower surface and interfacial tensions, whereas the higher-molecular-mass bioemulsifiers are more effective at stabilizing oil-in-water emulsions. Three natural roles for bioemulsifiers have been proposed: (i) increasing the surface area of hydrophobic water-insoluble growth substrates; (ii) increasing the bioavailability of hydrophobic substrates by increasing their apparent solubility or desorbing them from surfaces; (iii) regulating the attachment and detachment of microorganisms to and from surfaces. Bioemulsifiers have several important advantages over chemical surfactants, which should allow them to become prominent in industrial and environmental applications. The potential commercial applications of bioemulsifiers include bioremediation of oil-polluted soil and water, enhanced oil recovery, replacement of chlorinated solvents used in cleaning-up oil-contaminated pipes, vessels and machinery, use in the detergent industry, formulations of herbicides and pesticides and formation of stable oil-in-water emulsions for the food and cosmetic industries.