Microbial Surface Tensio-active Compounds: Production and Industrial
Application Perspectives: A Review
, Parveen Jamal1,4*, Md Zahangir Alama1
, Aarif Bashir Mir3
, Abdul Haseeb Ansari2
1 Bioprocess and Molecular Engineering Research Unit (BPMERU), Department of Biotechnology Engineering, Faculty of
Engineering, International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM), Malaysia.
2 Ahmad Ibrahim Faculty of Laws, International Islamic University Malaysia(IIUM), Malaysia.
3 Government Medical College and SMHS Hospital, Srinagar, J&K, India.
4 International Institute for Halal Research and Training (INHART) Faculty of Engineering, International Islamic University Malaysia
Biosurfactants are surface active agents produced naturally by a wide variety of microorganisms, which include different strains of bacteria,
fungi and yeast. Biosurfactants, also known as microbial surfactants, are amphiphilic compounds. It is the amphiphilic nature of
biosurfactants that makes them excellent foaming, emulsifying and dispersing agents. The .0surfactants or biosurfactants increase the
surface area of the water-insoluble hydrophobic entities. They are surpassing their chemical counterparts. This can be attributed to diversity,
high biodegradability, less toxicity, greater stability and ecological acceptance of biosurfactants in comparison with the chemically
prepared surfactants. However, currently, production of biosurfactants is a very expensive process mainly because of the costly synthetic
media required by the microorganisms to survive and grow. Therefore, much stress is being put on augmenting researching on cheap or
cost free and nutrient rich renewable wastes to be used as substrates for various microbes to grow and produce biosurfactants. Research
for new strains with high productivity is a challenge for the widespread application of microbial surfactants. This review focuses on the
extensive evaluation of biosurfactants and their application on commercial scale.
Biosurfactant; Biodegradability; Production; Agro-industrial wastes; Microorganism; Fermentation; Bioremediation;
Antimicrobial and Ant adhesive Applications; Amphiphilic nature; CO2Mitigation; Future trends
Surfactants are among most versatile products of the chemical
industry. Surfactant is an abridgment of the term surface active
chemical compound(s). A surfactant is a substance, when present
in a system, having property of adsorbing onto the surface or interface
of the system and alters to a great extent the interfacial
energy of those surfaces. The term interface denotes the boundary
between any two immiscible phases, and term surface denotes an
interface where one phase is gas, usually air. The interfacial
energy is minimum amount of the work required to create that
interface. In order to determine interfacial tension between two
phases, interfacial energy per unit area is to be measured. It is the
minimum amount of work required to create unit area of interface
or to expand it by unit area. The surface tension is also a measure
of difference in nature of two phases meeting at the surface. The
interfacial energy per unit area required to create the additional
amount of that interface is product of a interfacial tension and
increase in area of interface. A surfactant is, therefore, a substance
which at low concentration adsorbs at some or all of interface in
the system and significantly changes the amount of work required
to expand those interfaces (Rosen and Kunjappu, 2012).
Surfactants are characteristically organic compounds containing
both hydrophobic groups which form the integral part of tails and
the heads are composed of hydrophilic groups. Therefore, a surfactant
molecule contains both a water insoluble (and oil soluble
component) and a water soluble component. They are amphiphilic
surface active agents possessing both hydrophilic and hydrophobic
moieties that reduce surface and interfacial tensions by accumulating
at the interface between two immiscible fluids like oil andwater, signifying that surfactants moreover assist the solubility of
polar compounds in organic solvents. They are of synthetic or biological
origin. Due to their interesting properties such as lower
toxicity, higher degree of biodegradability, higher foaming
capacity and optimal activity at extreme conditions of temperatures,
pH levels and salinity, these have been increasingly
attracting the attention of the scientific and industrial communities.
Increasing public awareness of environmental pollution
influences the search and development of technologies that help
in clean-up of organic and inorganic contaminants such as hydrocarbons
and metals. An alternative and ecofriendly method of
remediation technology of environments contaminated with these
pollutants is the use of biosurfactants and biosurfactant-producing
microorganisms. The diversity of biosurfactants makes them an attractive
group of compounds for potential use in a wide variety of
industrial and biotechnological applications (Pacwa-Płociniczak et
Microorganisms produce a wide range of surfactants, generally
called biosurfactants. Microbial surfactants are surface entities that
are generally produced by bacteria, yeast and fungi and possess
very different chemical structures and physical properties (Amaral
et al., 2010). Microbial surface-active compounds are a group of
structurally diverse molecules produced by different microorganisms
and are mainly classified by their chemical structure
and their microbial origin. They are made up of a hydrophilic moiety,
comprising an acid, peptide cations, or anions, mono-, di- or
polysaccharides and a hydrophobic moiety of unsaturated or saturated
hydrocarbon chains or fatty acids. The hydrophilic (polar)
part of the biosurfactants is commonly referred to as 'head' and
the hydrophobic part (non-polar) is known as 'tail' (Karanth et al.,
1999). These structures confer a wide range of properties, including
the ability to lower surface and interfacial tension of liquids
and to form micelles and micro emulsions between two different
phases (Smyth et al., 2010).
Figure 1: Different type of aggregates formed by biosurfactants
3. Biosurfactants are mainly grouped on the basis of the molecular
weight, physical and chemical properties and also on the mode of
action. On the other hand, the basis of classification of synthetic
surfactants is quite different from that of its microbial counterparts.
The classification of synthetic surfactants is according
to the ionic charge borne by the polar part of the molecules which
can be anionic, cationic, non ionic or zwitterionic (Christofi and
Ivshina, 2002). Whereas, microbial surfactants are classified mainly
on the basis of their chemical composition and the nature of
the microorganisms, they originate from. Biosurfactants are also
classified as low weight and high weight molecules. Examples of
low weight biosurfactants are glycolipids and lipopeptides. The
major subtypes of glycolipids are: rhamnolipids, sophorolipids,
trehalose lipids, lipopeptides or peptidyl lipids etc. High molecular
weight biosurfactants are comprised of polysaccharides,
protein, lipopolysaccharides or complex mixtures of these biopolymers
. Biosurfactants with high molecular weights are associated
with stable emulsions but are not really good at reducing the
surface tension of the liquids (Ron and Rosenberg, 2001). On the other hand, low molecular weight microbial surfactants such as
glycolipids and lipopeptides can lower the surface and interfacial
tension in liquids, but these may not usually form emulsions
that are stable (Christofi and Ivshina, 2002).
Figure 2: Chemical structures of different types of biosurfactant
(a) Mannosylerythritol lipid (b)Surfactin (c) Sophorolipid (d) Rhamnolipid
Glycolipids are most commonly known surfactants that have the
microbial origin. This type of biosurfactant usually has low molecular
weight (Desai and Banat, 1997). Glycolipids can be further
classified into various subtypes (Matsuyama et al., 1992). The major
subtypes under this class are:
Rhamnolipids is the most common type classified under glycolipids.
The major components of rhamnolipids are rhamnose sugar
combined with beta-hydroxy fatty acids. The carboxyl end of the
beta hydroxyl-fatty acid chain is connected to the rhamnose sugar
Figure 3:Structures of Rhamnolipids
Lipopeptides and lipoproteins
Lipopeptides-based biosurfactant class is considered to be particular
interest because of the high surface activity and have antibiotic
potential. Lipopeptides have been reported to act as antibiotic,
antiviral and antitumour agents, immunomodulators or specific
toxins and enzyme inhibitors. Ahimou et al. (2000) have reported
that with different strains, bacterial hydrophobicity and
lipopeptide profile varies to a large extent. Also iturin A has
been reported as the only lipopeptide type produced by all Bacillus
subtilis strains. The cyclic lipopetides such as decapeptide
antibiotic (gramicidins) and lipopeptide antibiotics (polymyxins)
are reported to be produced by B .brevis and B. polymyxa, respectively.
Arima et al. (1968) have reported the cyclic lipopeptidesurfactin
produced by B. subtilis ATCC 21332, as one of the
most powerful microbial surfactants. This lipopeptide, even at low
concentration as 0.005%, has been reported to have reduced the
surface tension of water from 72.0mN/m to 27.9mN/m.
Another type of lipopeptides is produced by Bacillus licheniformis.
These lipopeptides have stability at high temperature or salt
concentrations (Yakimov et al., 1995).
Polymeric microbial surfactants are composed of several components.
Usually, they are polymeric heterosaccharides with proteins
as one of the components. Several types of surfactant
polymers have been researched such as liposan, mannoprotein,
emulsan etc. However, emulsan, synthesized by Acinetobacter
calcoaceticus, is the best studied one. It consists of a hetero-polysaccharide
backbone, to which fatty acids are covalently linked
(Rosenberg et al., 1988). Emulsan is a very effective emulsifying
agent for water hydrocarbon mixtures.
Another example is liposan, a carbohydrate-protein complex
synthesized by the yeast Yarrowialipolytica (Cirigliano and Carman,1984)
Figure 4: Chemical structure of Emulsan
Fatty acids, phospholipids and neutral lipids
A large number of bacteria and yeast species produce good quantities
of fatty acid and phospholipid surfactants during growth on
n-alkanes (Cirigliano and Carman, 1985; Robert , 1989). Phospholipids
are fat derivatives in which one fatty acid has been replaced
by a phosphate group and one of several nitrogen containing molecules.
It is a major component of cell membranes because these
can form lipid bilayers. Beeba and Umbreit (1971) reported the
production of phospholipids by Thiobacillus thiooxidans.
Microorganisms For Biosurfactant Production
A variety of microorganisms have been used for bioconversion of
different waste materials into biosurfactants. A few are enlisted in
Table 1: List of microorganisms utilized for biosurfactant production
The selection of appropriate raw material can play a crucial role
in making the biosurfactant production, economically and commercially,
a viable process. Earlier, biosurfactants were not much
accepted on commercial scale because of the high cost of the raw
material used. Also the downstream processes involved with
biosurfactant production are very costly as compared to that of
the synthetically produced surfactants. Lately, a lot research is being
done on replacing the expensive raw materials with the cheap
or cost free materials that are easily available. It has two positive
effects: one being the cost of raw material; and second is that by
utilizing these waste materials for the valuable product production,
it is indirectly solving the environmental pollution issue. Many of
the researches have been done on finding a variety of waste materials
that can be utilized for producing biosurfactants. Some of them
are listed in Table 2.
Table 2: List of a few renewable resources as carbon sources for biosurfactant production
Fermentation: A Common Technique Used for Production
Fermentation may be defined as a set of chemical reactions that
cause the degradation of complex organic molecules into simpler
compounds. This bioconversion of complex compounds into
simpler ones may be induced by living organisms like bacteria,
fungi etc Apart from major products like ethanol, carbon dioxide
etc, additional compounds or by products are also produced during
the fermentation process. These by products are also referred to as
secondary metabolites. These secondary metabolites are bioactive
compounds such as antibiotics, enzymes, growth factors, peptides
biosurfactants etc. (Subramaniyam and Vimala, 2012). Fermentation
process can be divided into two major types: submerged or
liquid state fermentation and surface or solid state fermentation.
Surface or Solid state fermentation
This type of fermentation occurs in absence or near absence of
aqueous medium (water). The substrates employed during this
type of fermentation are usually cost free renewable wastes that
are rich in carbon and protein content (Pandey, 2008). A few examples
of solid substrates used for solid state fermentation are banana
peel, wheat bran, tapioca peel (Vijayaraghavan et al., 2011),
cassava dregs (Hong et al., 2001), rice husk, sugarcane, cassava
bagasse, oil cakes such as palm kernel cake, coffee husk (Pandey,
2008). Solid state fermentation is a simple process and is
considered to be effective because it produces concentrated
products. Generally, for this type of fermentation the microorganisms
involved are those which require less moisture content for
growth e.g. fungi etc. However, for bacteria, which require high
water activity for growth, substrate fermentation is not preferred
very often (Subramaniyam and Vimala, 2012). Solid state fermentation
has a number of advantages over liquid state fermentation
process. In this process less quantity of effluent is released because
of the scarce amount of water used. This reduces pollution to a
large extent as otherwise caused by the discharge of liquid state
fermentation. It is also cost effective as it uses low volume
equipments. The aeration process during solid state fermentation is
easier compared to liquid state, which is essential for the growth of
aerobic microorganisms (Pandey, 2008). 5.2 Submerged or Liquid
Liquid state fermentation is the type of fermentation in which microorganisms
are able to grow in the medium present in form of a
solution. This type of fermentation process is known for utilizing
the substrates present in free flowing liquid, e.g. broth etc. During
this process, the secondary metabolites or bioactive compounds
such as biosurfactants, antibiotics, peptides etc are secreted into
the fermentation broth. Submerged or liquid state fermentation is
predominantly used on industrial scale. It is best suited for the microoganims
such as bacteria and some fungal strains which
require moisture for the optimum growth and production of
The major advantage of submerged fermentation is that the purification
of the bioactive compounds produced during the process
is much easier as compared to the surface fermentation (Subramaniyam
and Vimala, 2012). On the other hand, the purification of
biosurfactants produced on solid state fermentation is difficult and more complicated. During the extraction of product after fermentation,
some of the other water soluble compounds apart from desired
product may leach out, which makes the purification process
quite difficult (Pandey, 2008). Not much research has been done
on comparative study of the two techniques for the production
of bioactive compounds. Tabaraie et al. (2012) compared use of
both the techniques, i.e. solid state fermenation and liquid state for
the production of a bioactive compound (cephalosporin-C). It was
reported according to this study that solid state fermentation was
better than liquid state fermentation for the production of antibiotic
compounds by filamentoeus fungi. This conclusion was
based on better control of the operating conditions and low cost
involved during this process. However, other comparative studies
show that for certain strains submerged fermentation is better and
vice versa. Thus, implying that the fermentation technique should
be chosen based on the microorganism used for production (Subramaniyam
and Vimala, 2012).
Methods for Investigating Presence of Biosurfactants
Different methods for screening microbial cultures for the presence
of biosurfactant have been reported so far. Most common
screening methods for detection of biosurfactants
The Du-Nouy-Ring assay is widely applied for screening of
biosurfactant producing microbes. The Du-Nouy-Ring method is
based on measuring the force required to detach a ring or loop of
wire from an interface or surface of the liquid (Tadros, 2005). The
detachment force is proportional to the interfacial tension. The advantage
of this method is the accuracy and the ease of use.
Drop collapse method
The drop collapse assay was originally developed by Jain, et al.
(1991). The drop collapse assay is quite simple and requires no
specialized equipment and just a small volume of sample. This
assay relies on the destabilization of liquid caused by the
presence of surfactants. Therefore, drops of a cell suspension or of
culture supernatant are placed on an oil coated, solid surface. If the
liquid does not contain surfactants, the polar water molecules are
repelled from the hydrophobic surface and the drops remain stable.
If the liquid contains surfactants, the drops spread or even collapse
because the force or interfacial tension between the liquid drop
and the hydrophobic surface is reduced. The stability of drops is
dependent on surfactant concentration and correlates with surface
and interfacial tension.
Oil Spreading Assay
The oil spreading assay was developed by Morikawa, et al. (2000).
For this assay, 10 μl of crude oil is added to the surface of 40 ml
of distilled water in a petri dish to form a thin oil layer. Then, 10
μl of culture or culture supernatant are gently placed on the centre
of the oil layer. If biosurfactant is present in the supernatant, the
oil is displaced and a clearing zone is formed. The diameter of this
clearing zone on the oil surface correlates to surfactant activity,
also called oil displacement activity.
Emulsification index (E24)
The emulsifying capacity is evaluated by an emulsification
index (E24). The Standard method for determining E24 of the
culture is by adding 2 ml of kerosene and 2 ml of the cell- free broth in test tube, followed by vortexing for 2 min. The mixture
is allowed to stand for 24h. The E24 index can be defined as the
percentage of the height of emulsified layer (cm) divided by the
total height of the liquid column (cm) (Tabatabaee et al.,
2005).The emulsification index (E24) can be calculated by using
the following equation (Cooper and Goldenberg, 1987; Sarubbo et
al., 2006; Wei et al., 2005) .
The emulsification capacity of biosurfactants was actually developed
by (Cooper and Goldenberg, 1987)
Another methodology has been reported in which the emulsification
activity was measured by adding 5 ml of mineral oilto 5 ml
of supernatant in a graduated tube and vortexed vigorously. The
test tube containing the mixture, was then detained for 24 hours
and the emulsification index (E24% ) was determined using above
formula (Noudeh et al., 2010)
Parafilm M test
The bacterial supernatant is mixed with 1% xylene cyanol and
drops of the mixture are added onto the surface of parafilm M,
which is hydrophobic in nature. The shape of the drop is checked
after 1 min. This is followed by evaluating the diameters of the
drops. The spread out drops signify the presence of surfactants
(Morita et al., 2007).
Biosurfactants have a characteristic property of causing lysis
of erythrocytes. This methodology of investigating the presence
of biosurfactant in a culture was first developed by Mulligan
et al. (1984). The methodology used is quite simple. Different microbialcultures
are inoculated on blood agar plates (usually sheep
blood) and incubated for 2 days at 25°C. The strains capable of
producing biosurfactants will exhibit a colorless, transparent ring
around the colonies due to the lytic action of biosurfactants on the
erythrocytes (Walter et al., 2000).
Bacterial adherence to hydrocarbons (BATH)
Bacterial Adhesion to Hydrocarbons Assay was developed and
proposed by Rosenberg et al. (1980). It is a simple method for
determining the surface hydrophobicity characteristic of bacterial
Characterization Of Biosurfactants
The characterization of the biosurfactants is usually done on the
purified product obtained after extraction and purification. Characterization
helps in analyzing the characteristics of the biosurfactant
produced. This can be useful for figuring out their application.
For example, as reported by Lin et al. (2011), by characterizing
the novel biosurfactant produced in their study, they could suggest
its application in skin care products. A few of the characterization
techniques used for analyzing biosurfactant properties are listed
in Table 3.
Table 3:Techniques used for characterization of biosurfactants
Biosurfactants are gaining a lot of pace with regard to their usage
on the commercial scale. Not only have they found application in
industries like laundry, bioremediation, oil recovery but are also
used for therapeutic purposes. New trends in their applications
have shown their usage for combating effect of green-house gases.
Given below are some of the applications of biosurfactants.
The term bioremediation refers to the phenomenon in which the
metabolic activities ofmicroorganisms are used to remove pollutants.
Bioremediation, apart from occurring naturally, can be
activated by the addition of certain bioactive compounds produced
by various microorganisms. Bioremediators are the microorganisms
that can be used for bioremediation. Bioremediation
can be mainly classified into two: in situ or ex situ. During in
situ bioremediation, the contaminated material is treated at the site
itself, while in ex situ procedure the removal of the contaminated
material is done elsewhere and not the site of collection itself.
The in situ bioremediation thus reduces the risk exposure to
cleanup personnel and potentially wider exposure as a result of
transportation accidents (Gabriel, 1991). Furthermore, this process
has minimal impact on environment as almost no waste products
are accumulated because of the complete degradation of the contaminants by microbes capable of producing bioactive compounds
e.g. biosurfactants. These characteristics make bioremediation
techniques potentially ideal for detoxification of chemical
pollutants. Microbes that produce the biosurfactants and other
bioactive compounds which are able to degrade the contaminants,
are found to be more in numbers when the contaminant is present.
However, when the contaminant is degraded the microorganism
population declines. After the treatment, the residues left behind
are usually harmless byproducts like carbon dioxide, water, and
cell biomass (Kumar et al., 2011).
Microbial Enhanced Oil Recovery (MEOR)
Biosurfactants are of much interest in petroleum-related industries
because of their role in Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR). If the
primary methods like pumping are used for recovering oil from
reservoirs, the recovery is only 30%. However, the addition of biosurfactants
lowers the surface as well as interfacial tensions of the
oil which helps in facilitating the flow of oil and thus makes the
recovery operations easier (Kosaric, 1992). This method is also
referred to as Microbial Enhanced Oil Recovery (MEOR).
Figure 5: Different uses of biosurfactants for MEOR
Beckman (1926) was the first person to suggest the usage of microorganism
for releasing oil from porous media (Sen, 2008).
However it was ZoBell (1947), whose work marked the beginning
of a new era of research in petroleum microbiology, mainly focussing
on its application for oil recovery (Rashedi et al., 2012). This
work was followed by many scientists later on. The study carried
out by Updegraff and Wren (1954) was based on the use of underground
injected microorganisms. His study showed that these
microbes could convert cheap substrates, e.g. molasses into many
oil recovery agents including biosurfactants.
This study was patented in 1957 (Lazar et al., 2007). Biosurfactants
used could reduce the interfacial tension between oil and rock
or water surface which resulted in emulsification and in turn improved
pore scale displacement and altered the wettability, thus,
making recovery process more efficient. As per a statistical evaluation
held in U.S in 1995, 81% of all MEOR projects showed a
positive increase in oil production with no adverse results or any
decrease in oil production. This process is economically feasible
as the process needs only minor modifications of the already existing facilities. The installation of the process is less expensive
and easy to apply.
Oil spills cleanup and oil bioremediation
Petroleum is one of the principal sources of energy on global scale.
This source of energy is usually transferred via pipelines or transported
on ships through oceans and seas to different parts of the
world. The leakage of petroleum, during the transfer, into oceans
happens very often. It is therefore one of the major environmental
pollutants. Also the large amount of oil sludge and waste oily
materials generated by the oil refineries pose a threat to our ecosystem.
The expensive disposal methods are the main cause of this
threat. The latest example of this type of environmental disaster
is Rena oil spill disaster. The fuel on board the Rena consisted of
1,700 tonnes of heavy fuel oil and 200 tonnes of diesel fuel (Taylor,
2011). This oil spill caused a huge loss of flora and fauna. In
many such incidents, the recovery is done by chemical technology.
However, that also imposes threat to the flora and fauna to some
extent. The natural surfactants can find the utility in oil remediation
and oil spill clean-up. The biosurfactants can be used for oil spills cleanup or enhanced oil
recovery because they can reduce the oil-water interfacial tension
leading to emulsification. The stability of emulsions formed, is
because of the ability of biosurfactantsto lower interfacial
tension between interfaces and oil (Banat, 2000).
Sludge Tank clean-up
The process of cleaning up of th pipelines, is very expensive and
tedious. The conventional pumps fail to remove the sludge and
waste oil deposits which results in the accumulation of these
by-products in the storage tanks. Manual labour is expensive and
time consuming and also very hazardous. Use of biosurfactants
is one of the economically viable alternatives. Not only does it
help in sludge removal but it also beneficent because of its ability
to recover oil from these wastes (Banat et al., 1991). Also recently
oil tank bottom sludge was treated with a novel biosurfactant,
JE1058BS, produced by an actinomycete Gordonia sp., and
it could efficiently clean up the tanks. The dispersion activity by
JE1058BS was reported to better than that of chemical counterpart
or surfactant having plant origin (Matsui et al., 2012).
Therapeutic and Medical Applications
Recently, the microbial surface active agents have found relevant
applications as therapeutic agents. They are reported to have antiviral,
antifungal and antibacterial activities (Rodrigues and Teixeira,
2010). Thus, they can be used to combat many diseases caused
by bacteria, fungi, viruses etc. Not only do biosurfactants have
anti-microbial activities, but they are also reported to have anti adhesive
activities against several pathogens. This property has been
exploited for the coating of medical materials with biosurfactants,
prior to insertion, so as to
reduce the large number of infections caused, otherwise by the pathogens attached to these instruments. (Rodrigues and Teixeira, 2010)
The antimicrobial activity of microbial surfactants has been reported
in many literatures in the past decade with its wide range
applications (Cameotra and Makkar, 2004). Rodrigues, et al.
(2004) reported the anti-bacterial activity of two microbial surfactants
probiotic bacteria, Lactococcuslactis 53 and Streptococcus
thermophiles A. Both biosurfactants were reported to have high
antimicrobial activity against Candida tropicalis GB 9/9, a type
of strain held responsible for prostheses failure, even at low concentrations.
Abalos et al. (2001), reported that seven different
types of rhamnolipid, produced from cultures of Pseudomonas
aeruginosa AT10 with soybean oil refinery waste as major substrate,
showed excellent antifungal activity against various fungi
when tested. Rodrigues et al. (2006) reported the antimicrobial
activity of the rhamnolipids that were produced by P. aeruginosa;
lipopeptides that were produced by B.subtilis and B. licheniformi
sp., and the antimicrobial activity of mannosylerythritol lipids
produced by Candida antartica. Kitamoto et al. (2002) also
reported, in another study, the antimicrobial activity exhibited by
mannosylerythritol lipid (MEL) especially against Gram-positive
bacteria (Rodrigues and Teixeira, 2010). The antibacterial
activity of lichenysin A, a microbial surfactant produced by B. licheniformis,
was reported by Yakimov et al. (1995). Lichenysin A is considered to have the anti-microbial activity almost similar to
that of surfactants of chemical origin.
Biosurfactants have been found effective in combating colonization
by pathogenic microorganisms on the solid surfaces like surgical
instruments. Fracchia et al. (2010) showed a biosurfactant
(CV8LAC) had a considerable anti-adhesive activity against two
biofilm producing strains of C. albicans. Hence, the anti-adhesive
properties of the CV8LAC biosurfactant against two
Candida albicans biofilm producers suggest that it can be efficiently
used as an anti-adhesive product on medical devices (catheters,
prosthesis, etc.) to prevent the infections caused by Candida
Another biosurfactant, Pseudofactin II, produced by Pseudomonas
fluorescens BD5 is reported to have reduced the adhesion
of five bacterial strains (E. coli, Enterococcus faecalis, Enterococcus
hirae, Staphylococcus epidermidis and Proteus mirabilis
) and two Candidaalbicans strains, on three different type of
surfaces i.e. silicone, glass and polystyrene. In this study, 0.5
mg/ml coating of pseudofactinII, was applied on the polystyrene
surface, and the results showed bacterial adhesion reduced by
36-90% and the adhesion of C. albicans was reduced by 92-99%
(Janek et al., 2012). Pseudofactin II is also showed inhibitory
action against the adhesion of E. faecalis, E. coli, E. hirae and
C albicans strains on silicone urethral catheters.
CO2 Mitigation using biosurfactants
Greenhouse effect is a natural process that is responsible for heating
the earth`s surface. The gases present in the atmosphere, e.g.
CO2, methane etc. have the ability to absorb infra-red radiations
emitted from the surface of the earth. Certain studies have reported
the utility of microbial surfactants for reduction of CO2 emission
into the atmosphere. The biosurfactants may not help in total elimination
but may play a significant role in reducing the amount of
this green- house gas (GHG) present in the atmosphere (Gakpe et
al., 2008). Patel (2003) concluded, based on his study, that the increased
production and use of biological surfactants should be part
of an overall GHG (Green-house gas) emission reduction strategy
consisting of a whole range of measures addressing both energy
demand and supply.
Plant pathogen removal and disease control
A large number of studies have described antifungal activity of
biosurfactants especially, rhamnolipids against a wide variety
of phytopathogens e.g. Rhizoctonia sp., Pythium sp. Botrytis sp.,
Phytophtora sp. and Plasmoparasp etc. Rhamnolipids have two
modes of action: antimicrobial activity and are also responsible
for stimulating the defense mechanism of plants. This dual property
is quite essential for the efficiency of biopesticides. Vatsa et
al. (2010), reported the role of rhamnolipids; produced by Pseudomonas
spp., in rapid killing of zoospores by rupturing the plasma
membrane of three respective zoosporic plant pathogenic microorganisms:Pythiumaphanidernatum,
The late blight disease of potatoes is generally caused by Phytophthorainfestans
(Mont.) De Bary. Hultberg et al. (2010) investigated
the possible role of the biosurfactant-producing strain Pseudomonas koreensis 2.74 in reducing potato late blight disease. This
is method is known as biocontrol. The biosurfactant activity for
this study was observed in greenhouse trials using a detached-leaf
method. Significant reduction in the appearance of disease was reported
with this biosurfactant-producing strain.
Another aspect of utilizing biosurfactants is using them as adjuvants
with pesticides. The biosurfactants find a role in this area because
of the pesticide water solubility issues. The surfaces of most
of the plant infecting agents such as insects, fungi etc are waxy. On
the other hand, most of the pesticides are water based solutions.
This makes it difficult for these solutions to penetrate into their
target. Biosurfactants, however, are amphiphilic in nature, i.e. they
possess a hydrophilic head and hydrophobic tail. These components
of the surfactants, in general, help in the reduction of surface
tension of the solution and this in turn helps in even dispersion of
the pesticides on the surfaces of the target (Thomas et al., 2013).
However, the use of natural surfactants on a greenhouse crop is a
critical decision. Thomas et al. (2013) reported that some materials
such as coconut oils, palm oils, castor oils, lanolins, wheat
amino acids, and many others have been used earlier, but not much
research is available to verify them as potential adjuvants for improved
activity of pesticides. He also states, that there is evidence
that can prove these products may serve as sources of food for
fungi, bacteria etc. and help their growth. Bergstrand (2010) however,
has reported the use of biosurfactants for the sustainibility
of green house horticulture. Bergstrand has suggested the use of
biosurfactants to control root disease caused by different types of
pests and to reduce the need for chemical pesticides. This has been
referred to as biocontrol using resident microflora. Bergstrand
(2010) has reported, in his study, the potential of the resident
microflora for production of bio-control agents in hydroponic systems.
This in turn will reduce the need of using chemical pesticides
as well as usage of costly disinfection devices.
Applications in Food Industries
An excessive use of surfactants that have synthetic origin can
cause the technogenic or an anthropogenic load on the natural
environment of flora and fauna which in turn has a major effect
on quality of food products. The use biosurfactants in the food
products can help in overcoming this problem, and being effective
and ecologically safe. In food industry biosurfactants
have found the application mainly due to emulsifying properties
Emulsification plays an essential role in phase dispersion and thus
helps in the formation of even texture of the product. The characteristics
of a certain food product can be influenced by the addition
of biosurfactants. Shepherd et al. (1995), reported the crude
bioemulsifier obtained from Candida utilis , which exhibited low
viscosity and possessed a carbohydrate content of over 80%, had a
potential for its use in salad cream or salad dressing. Biosurfactant
is one of the ingredients in bakery and ice cream industry. It helps
in maintaining the consistency of the product. It also plays role
in solubilising flavour oils and helps in retarding the staling of the
food items. Biosurfactants are known for its use in food industry
during packaging of the products. The presence of biofilms in the
packaged food can cause fouling which may be responsible for
its contamination, spoilage and eventually disease transmission through ingestion of this food (Hood and Zottola, 1995). Biosurfactants
have been investigated for curbing this problem. Busscher
et al. (1996) reported that the biosurfactant produced by
thermophilic dairy Streptococcus sp. has the potential to be used
in controlling fouling as it has the ability to retard the growth or
colonization of S. thermophilus which is responsible for fouling.
Microbial surfactants are applicablein the cosmetic i n d u s t r y
because of their skin compatibility and moisturizing properties
(Brown, 1991). The cosmetic industry can utilize a wide range
of applications of biosurfactants which include emulsification
and de-emulsification, foaming, wetting properties, water
binding capacity etc (Gharaei-Fathabad, 2011). Biosurfactants can
replace surfactants in almost all of the cosmetic products e.g. bath
products, solutions used for contact lenses, hair care and colour
products, antiperspirants, nail polishes, massage creams, lipsticks
and glosses and other lip make up products, eye makeup products
like eye shades and mascaras etc., baby care products, shampoos
and conditioners, shaving creams etc. (Schramm et al., 2003). Yamane
(1987) has reported that the sophorolipid mixed with propylene
glycol in the ratio of 1:12 is specifically compatible with most
of the skin types and has thus found commercial utility as a skin
moisturizer. Also, Gupta et al. (2012) reported the sophorolipids
as potent bactericidal agents and their utility in the treatment of
dandruff, body odor or acne etc.
Current Market Value And Future Trends
Over the past decade, the growth of the global market of biosurfactants
market has been enormous. The major reason for this
growth is the demand for such products because of their environment-friendly
nature, even though the cost of production is still
higher as compared to the synthetic surfactants. Consumers are becoming
more aware of the hazards caused by thesynthetic agents
and this awareness is paving a way for the increased demand of microbial surfactants. It has been reported in Transparency
Market Research, among all the geographical regions, the
leading country in terms of production and consumption of
biosurfactants is Europe followed by North America. It is also reported
that detergents and personal care products will be contributing
to more than 56.8% of the global biosurfactants market in
2018. In terms of quantity, it is expected that the volume of global
biosurfactants market will be 476,512.2 tons by 2018 and 21%
of this volume will be consumed by developing countries of
Asia etc. Even the companies who were selling surfactant based
products have also turned to use of microbial surfactants. Some of
them are BASF-Cognis and Ecover. However, BASF-Cognis was
ahead with over 20% share of the market in 2011 (Albany, 2012).
Basically, the market for biosurfactants is of two types: Highly
expensive (value added) and less expensive (commodity) biosurfactants.
Highly expensive biosurfactants generally, are applicable
for medical use. Many medical applications of biosurfactants have
already been enlisted in the applications section in this paper.
Most of the biosurfactant produced currently, find their application
in value added products like pharmaceuticals or personal care
products which are produced in small volumes. It is because the
cost of these finished products is usually high as compared to the cost of carbon sources used for feeding the microorganisms. However,
use of biosurfactants as commodity surfactants is still
questionable. It is because the production cost is sufficiently higher
than the selling price of general commodities (Garcia-Becerra et
al., 2010). This problem can be alleviated by researching and
more and more usage of cost free waste products as major carbon
sources for the production of microbial surfactants.
Recent Patents on Biosurfactants
List of a few patents that have been filed in recent times for innovative
studies on biosurfactants is given in Table 4.
Table 4:List of recent patent filed on biosurfactants
This review provides the generalized information that is essentially
required for harnessing the natural resources and a variety
of microorganisms for the production of microbial surfactants.
Biosurfactants production on industrial scale is still a challenge
because of the high costs incurred during the production and purification
processes. In order to make the production process economically
viable, low cost or cost free raw materials can be used
as carbon substrates. A variety of microorganisms such as bacteria,
fungi, yeast etc. have been reported to produce biosurfactants
by utilizing the low cost waste materials as carbon sources. This
paper has enlisted a wide range of raw materials and the
microbes used for the production of biosurfactants. Novel microorganisms
that can utilize the cheap raw materials and produce
microbial surfactants at high yields can bring the breakthrough in
the production process. A number of characterization techniques
can be applied to determine the type of biosurfactant being produced.
An extensive list of characterization techniques used to
identify different types of biosurfactants has also been presented in
this paper. Biosurfactants have found applications in many
different interdisciplinary fields replacing the synthetic surfactants
mainly due to their lower toxicity and ability to work under
more restrictive environmental conditions. The current and
the future trends on biosurfactants suggest that with the economic
development in the large scale fermentation production processes
and efficient down-stream processing, biosurfactant will soon be
commercially successful biotechnological product.
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