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What are biosurfactants?

Tensioactive metabolites

  • Biosurfactants are microbial metabolites.
  • These molecules have both a water-loving hydrophilic part, which is often a sugar or peptide, and an oil-loving hydrophobic tail.
  • Like synthetic or conventional surfactants, they reduce the surface tension of liquids.
  • Biosurfactants also easily accumulate at the interface of different phases and reduce interfacial tension.


  • Synthetic surfactants are made from petrochemical precursors that are finite. Thus a most attractive aspect of biosurfactants is that they can be made sustainably from plant-based materials, which serve as food for the biosurfactant-producing microbes.
  • Biosurfactants also have low toxicity, especially to aquatic species, and good biodegradability.
  • These characteristics make biosurfactants a truly green class of molecules fit to serve our 21st century, of increasing global environmental consciousness.

Function & Performance

  • Stemming largely from their tension-altering properties, biosurfactants have diverse industrial and commercial uses. These include as agents in enhanced oil recovery (EOR), flotation processes, detergent formulations, bioremediation, germicides, and cosmetic and medical compositions.
  • Biosurfactants show comparable performance as many types synthetic surfactants. Sometimes they show superior performance, depending on application.

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