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Scientists discover treasure trove at Lake Bogoria

 Tourists enjoy the hot springs at Lake Bogoria. The biological enzymes found there will highly reduce pollution while producing a better and much highly refined finish for top markets. [File, Standard]

Local and Swiss scientists have discovered new organisms at Lake Bogoria with multiple industrial use and possibly worth billions of shillings.

The find is similar to previous enzymes collected from the lake and now used globally to give jeans their stonewashed look; fetching huge profits for foreign companies.

Around 1992, foreign scientists had collected some contested biological organisms from the hot water lake in the Rift Valley which are now in industrial use by American companies.

However, the difference this time around is that the find is much larger, involving more diverse organisms with multiple industrial uses.

“We have isolated 18 bacterial organisms from Lake Bogoria with huge potential for the production of high quality industrial products,” says a report published in May.

In a brief posted on the University of Nairobi repository, lead investigator Kevin Raymond Oluoch says they are working with Rivatex (EA) Ltd, on ways to exploit the enzymes in the textile industry.

In the published study Oluoch who was busy through-out the week to discuss the monumental findings says they have isolated organism with an extremely wide range of industrial applications.

Strong collaborations

In a study published in May, Oluoch with colleagues say the isolates can be used in the leather industry, for the recovery of silver, pharmaceutical, chemical, food and feed industries.

Some of the organisms, the researchers say have possible uses in the pulp and paper, textile industries and in the treatment of wastewater.

 “We are talking about huge, huge industrial possibilities down the line. We may have just started scratching on the surface,” says the study.

Oluoch who with other researchers has been studying the organisms at Lake Bogoria for more than a decade say now it time to move to production.

“To put these new technologies into practice, we have established strong collaborations with the textile company Rivatex (EA) Ltd, through Moi University of Eldoret,” says Oluoch.

One of the most important processes in the production of textiles is called scouring. This is the removal of impurities such as oils, gums, and dirt in a highly polluting process.

However, researchers say the use of biological enzymes such as what has been discovered at Lake Bogoria will highly reduce pollution while producing a better and much highly refined finish for top markets.

“We also intend to evaluate another of the enzymes for use in cleaning waste waters from textiles manufacturing companies which is a major problem globally,” explains the study.

Currently textile and leather producing factories are major polluters of rivers, ground water and agricultural soils across the world but with these natural enzymes, scientists say the problem would be largely solved.

Oluoch’s latest findings in collaboration with other researchers from the University of Nairobi and Lund University, Sweden were published in May in The Open Biotechnology Journal.

The good news comes at a time Baringo County is demanding full disclosure of the resources collected from the lake in 1992.

In April and apparently not aware of the new development, Baringo Environment Chief Administrative Secretary William Kiprono, had hinted over revisiting the issue of compensation.

Mr Kiprono, who spoke in Eldama Ravine Sub-County during a tree planting event, said locals had been short changed on benefit sharing.

In 1992, a researcher from a British university ‘illegally’ harvested similar organisms from the lake, and in 1995 sold them to companies in the Netherlands and the US.

In 2004, the Kenya Wildlife Service went to court seeking a share of proceeds generated from the sale of resultant detergents and bleaching agents manufactured in the US.

Kiprono said Baringo community was later given a paltry Sh2.3 million by the Dutch bio-enzyme company which went to bursaries for about 200 local students.

The administrator threatened that the community could revisit the issue to assess whether what it received was commensurate with profits fetched by the foreign beneficiaries.

In a 2002 report Genencor the original recipient US company said the enzymes derived from the lake had made less than $10 million.

The firm also claimed to have donated computer and sampling equipment to the Kenyatta University microbiology department.

Kenyan officials including at KWS, however, insist the profits are far more than the company declared.


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