Meet the Microbes Eating the Gulf Oil Spill [Slide Show]

These microscopic life forms are blooming as a result of the oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico from the Macondo 252 deep-sea well
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Much like A. borkumensis , T. oleivorans makes its living by turning the alkanes in oil into microbial cells, CO2 and water—and can be found from the Black Sea to the Gulf of Mexico, as can other members of the Thalassolituus genus.....[ More ]


Some members of this genus attack the carcinogenic constituents found in most oil deposits—the aforementioned polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons—and can be found throughout the planet's oceans.....[ More ]


Another alkane eater (like A. borkumensis ), various Oleispira turn oil into more and more Oleispira cells, along with carbon dioxide and water. One unintended side effect can be local " dead zones ," as the industrious microbial consortia , like the one pictured here, consume much of the dissolved oxygen in the seawater as they feast on the oil.....[ More ]


This order of microbes—part of the Proteobacteria phylum, named after the shape-shifting Greek god Proteus—assume a number of forms and roles in eliminating an oil spill. The most famous oil-eating member of the order is the aforementioned A.....[ More ]


This clan of oil-eating microbes can be found from cold Arctic and Antarctic waters to the balmy seas of the Gulf of Mexico. It also has the ability to thrive in a variety of habitats, from marine sediments to Arctic sea ice—making it one of the more adaptable spill fighters.....[ More ]


Some of the most dangerous constituents of an oil spill are polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons—volatile molecules that can be highly toxic. Fortunately, at least 23 strains of the bacterial genus Cycloclasticus native to the Gulf of Mexico can degrade such nasty oil constituents by tapping them for energy.....[ More ]


A rod-shaped bacterium, A. borkumensis has played a role in oil spill cleanups from Alaska ( Exxon Valdez ) to the Mediterranean waters near Spain ( Prestige ). Although it persists in low numbers at all times, the bacterium blooms after an oil spill —and has the ability to both break down the alkanes that make up part of the oil as well as spread a biodispersant that helps other microbes feast on other constituents of the spill.....[ More ]

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