Microbial Kerainase and its Potential Application in the Management of Tannery Hair Waste

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A. Onyuka
M. Bates
A. Covington
P. Antunes


Up to 40 tons of solid hair waste can be generated during the industrial leather manufacturing process posing disposal problems. Composting is considered a viable technology to recycle the hair waste for application in agriculture. However, due to its constituent protein, keratin hair is remarkably resistant to degradation under natural conditions. The aim of this study was to isolate keratin degrading bacteria and evaluate their ability to degrade hair as a preliminary study towards developing a biocatalyst to improve hair degradation during composting. Subsequently, a keratinolytic microorganism was isolated from a nutrient alkaline culture (pH 11) with bovine hair as the source of carbon and nitrogen. The microorganism, identified as belonging to the Bacillus species grew optimally in the temperature range of 40 – 50°C. The partially purified microbial keratinase exhibited broad substrate specificity at pH range 7.5 – 10. The pH and temperature of optimum activity was determined at 9.0 and 50°C, respectively. Scanning electron microscopy assessment of the hair samples showed complete fragmentation of the structure after incubation with the microbial keratinase. Hence, the microbial keratinase has greater potential application as inoculant to enhance biodegradation of tannery solid hair waste during the composting process.

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