Newly-Discovered Species of Bacteria Claimed to be Breaking Down Oil in Deepwater Plumes in the Gulf

Good News for a Change, Or More Faulty Science? – Published on Global, by Washington’s Blog, August 25, 2010.

A team of scientists published a paper today in the journal Science which provides some hopeful news.

Specifically, a team of scientists have discovered a new species of oil-eating microbes which thrive in the deepwater of the Gulf of Mexico:

The biological effects and expected fate of the vast amount of oil in the Gulf of Mexico from the Deepwater Horizon blowout are unknown due to the depth and magnitude of this event. Here, we report that the dispersed hydrocarbon plume stimulated deep-sea indigenous {gamma}-proteobacteria that are closely related to known petroleum-degraders. 

Hydrocarbon-degrading genes coincided with the concentration of various oil contaminants. Changes in hydrocarbon composition with distance from the source and incubation experiments with environmental isolates demonstrate faster-than-expected hydrocarbon biodegradation rates at 5°C.

Even better, the scientists believe that this new species (pronounced “gamma-proteo-bacteria”) may not suck up as much oxygen as previously-discovered species:

Based on these results, the potential exists for intrinsic bioremediation of the oil plume in the deep-water column without substantial oxygen drawdown.

This discovery is especially important given that a leading expert on oil-eating microbes – Dr. David Valentine – failed to find any of the leading known oil-eating bacteria in the deepwater plumes.

Many well-known bacteria – such as Salmonella, Yersinia (plague), Vibrio (cholera), Pseudomonas aeruginosa (lung infections in hospitalised or cystic fibrosis patients) and E. coli (food poisoning), as well as a number of geothermic ocean vent dwellers which eat methane or hydrogen sulfide – are members of the Gammaproteobacteria class of microbes. The scientists found a BP oil-eating species within that broader class of bacteria.

As Lawrence Berkeley Labs – a U.S Department of Energy lab – notes, the new species is closely related to Oceanospirillales, an order within the Gammaproteobacteria class of microbes: … (full text and Comments).

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