Plants share an intimate relationship with microbes. For example, plant roots secrete carbohydrates into the soil rhizosphere that are taken up and utilized by soil microbes. In turn, soil bacteria provide three key benefits to the plant: 1) secretion of compounds that increase the bioavailability of soil nutrients for the plant; 2) secretion of bioactive compounds that deter plant pests such as fungi, nematodes and insect larvae; and 3) secretion of plant hormones that stimulate plant growth.
Identification of the microbes that specifically benefit key agricultural crops can lead to products with substantial value to the agricultural industry. Taxon understands the opportunities in this sector and our team/technology platform is ideally suited to finding the critical microbes and consortia in these highly complex soil microbial communities.
Microbes are responsible for a multitude of biochemical transformations in subsurface hydrocarbon reservoirs, which directly impact the value of hydrocarbon resources for both the good (biogenic gas and production of residual oil mobilizing compounds) and the bad (e.g. souring, biodegradation and corrosion). Through Taxon’s technology platform, microbial communities in the reservoir can be efficiently characterized to enable powerful and performance step change biological based products.
Heavy oil is found globally and the International Energy Agency (IEA) reports that roughly 66% of all remaining crude oil is classified as heavy.
Crude oil is made up of hundreds of different hydrocarbons that span the molecular weight spectrum from methane through asphaltenes. In certain instances, either naturally (e.g. Alberta Oil Sands) or through production related activities, the resident microbes will substantially biodegrade the oil, effectively turning the ‘light’ oil into ‘heavy’ oil. The preference of microbes to consume the lighter components of the oil can have profound consequences upon the physical properties of the hydrocarbon resource including increases in viscosity and density. Asphaltenes are a high molecular weight component of crude oil and are generally considered resistant to biodegradation. As a result, asphaltene relative abundance increases in heavier oil which contributes to the high viscosity, high density properties of heavy oil.
Taxon is developing select microbes with the ability to break key bonds within asphaltene molecules that will lead to improvements in the physical properties of heavy oil. By reducing the molecular weight of asphaltene molecules, the value of heavy oil resources can be dramatically improved. Taxon is evaluating opportunities for the further development and commercial deployment of this technology for in situ and ex situ applications.
It has been estimated that up to 30% of all the natural gas commercially produced is derived from the action of microbes in the subsurface. Methane (natural gas) is the end product of microbial metabolism of complex carbon sources in anaerobic environments. Coal is a super-abundant carbon resource in the subsurface that readily serves as a food source for microbes in the methanogenic conversion into methane. A recent strategy being developed in the natural gas industry is to consider these subsurface coal seams together with the native microbial communities associated with the coal as a natural gas producing bioreactor that if maintained properly, could produce natural gas for decades rather than the few-year normal life expectancy of a conventional gas well.
Taxon has characterized the microbial communities from hundreds of subsurface coal seams and maintains an extensive molecular database comprised of 16S rRNA gene sequences from over 2 million distinct species of microbes that inhabit oil and gas reservoirs. Utilizing this information, together with its anaerobic strain collection, Taxon has performed numerous lab-scale validations of synthetic consortium of microbes that can increase rates of coal-to-methane conversion.
Conventional oil extraction processes recover less than half of the oil present in subsurface reservoirs. Additional measures are necessary to recover more of the remaining oil through secondary and tertiary oil recovery processes. These activities include steam injections, water flooding and the use of chemicals such as polymers and surfactants to aid in recovery. The injection of microbes or nutrients to stimulate endemic microbes that naturally produce these chemicals is a strategy that has been deployed successfully for over a decade.
Taxon is applying genomics technologies and high-throughput screening of its in-house strain collections to turbo charge this proven approach of enhanced oil recovery. New microbes with enhanced properties to recover residual oil are currently in development. These discoveries offer the promise of converting non-economical oilfields into economical resources and extending the life of mature oilfields.
The new and rapidly expanding field of the human microbiome has revealed the extensive relationship we have with our resident microbes and how we depend upon them for our own health and well-being. For example, for every human cell in our body we have ten times the number of bacterial residents. Seemingly every day we learn about another aspect of our own biology that is tied to the function of bacterial commensal organisms.
Taxon’s technology platform is ideally suited to resolve important relationships that exist between bacteria and their host. Additionally, Taxon has conducted proof of principle studies in diverse sample sets that extend from human Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) patients to insect guts and we are exploring new ways to create value in this important space.