A team of students at the University of Calgary have developed bacteria that could destroy the toxins in oilsands tailings ponds.
Graduate student advisor David Lloyd said Friday the bacteria will not only eat the toxins, it will convert them into oil.
"We've engineered an organism that's going to be able to take toxins, eat them up and convert them into oil for us," said Lloyd.
"Something useful for industry and also at the same time environmentally friendly, and cleaning up those large areas of water."
The project is described as synthetic biology, which combines biology and engineering.
"For the most part what we hear is a lot of talk about the problems of the oilsands," said biological sciences student Jeff Addison.
"But I don't hear as much talk about a solution so that's why I think this kind of thinking, and thinking towards a solution is really fresh."
The students are taking their bacteria to an international competition this weekend.
They will participate in the world championship for International Genetically Engineered Machines at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston.