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Biotechnological applications of marine bacteria in bioremediation of environments polluted with hydrocarbons and plastics


Marine ecosystems are some of the most adverse environments on Earth and contain a considerable portion of the global bacterial population, and some of these bacterial species play pivotal roles in several biogeochemical cycles. Marine bacteria have developed different molecular mechanisms to address fluctuating environmental conditions, such as changes in nutrient availability, salinity, temperature, pH, and pressure, making them attractive for use in diverse biotechnology applications. Although more than 99% of marine bacteria cannot be cultivated with traditional microbiological techniques, several species have been successfully isolated and grown in the laboratory, facilitating investigations of their biotechnological potential. Some of these applications may contribute to addressing some current global problems, such as environmental contamination by hydrocarbons and synthetic plastics. In this review, we first summarize and analyze recently published information about marine bacterial diversity. Then, we discuss new literature regarding the isolation and characterization of marine bacterial strains able to degrade hydrocarbons and petroleum-based plastics, and species able to produce biosurfactants. We also describe some current limitations for the implementation of these biotechnological tools, but also we suggest some strategies that may contribute to overcoming them.

Key points

Marine bacteria have a great metabolic capacity to degrade hydrocarbons in harsh conditions.

Marine environments are an important source of new bacterial plastic-degrading enzymes.

Secondary metabolites from marine bacteria have diverse potential applications in biotechnology.

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We thank Daniel Mayer Martínez for drawings, and Shirley Elizabeth Ainsworth Gore and David Santiago Castañeda Carreón for bibliography assistance.


This research was funded by the National Council of Science and Technology of Mexico—Mexican Ministry of Energy—Hydrocarbon Trust, project 201441. This is a contribution of the Gulf of Mexico Research Consortium (CIGoM).

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LM-M and LP-L conceived the idea. LM-M, SM-L and LP-L performed the literature search, data analysis, wrote the manuscript and approved the final version. LP-L coordinated the IBt-L4-CIGoM group.

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Correspondence to Luis Felipe Muriel-Millán.

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This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Muriel-Millán, L.F., Millán-López, S. & Pardo-López, L. Biotechnological applications of marine bacteria in bioremediation of environments polluted with hydrocarbons and plastics. Appl Microbiol Biotechnol 105, 7171–7185 (2021).

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  • Marine bacteria
  • Biotechnology
  • Hydrocarbon and plastic pollution
  • Bioremediation
  • Biosurfactants