Marine bacteria pitch in to help clean Deepwater Horizon spill

May 28th, 2010 - 12:24 pm ICT by ANI  

London, May 28 (ANI): Researchers have found that dozens of different kinds of marine bacteria are hard at work to help clean the oil spill in Gulf of Mexico.

Jay Grimes of the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg reported that water samples from the Gulf of Mexico are showing signs that the bacteria are already at work and their population is likely to increase soon.

Among these are members of the Vibrio family, which includes the species that causes cholera. Grimes cautions that there is no evidence that this species is one of those that breaks down oil, although other Vibrios that cause human infections do.

“The Vibrios use breakdown products of oil,” New Scientist quoted Rita Colwell of the University of Maryland in College Park.

“When [the oil from Deepwater Horizon] reaches the estuary, Vibrios very likely will increase.”

Colwell warns of risk of bacterial infection in the Gulf from Vibrio fish pathogens and other species that commonly infect shellfish and may infect humans too.

“Now we plan to see how the microbial community evolves when you give it oil,” says Grimes. He hopes to screen bacteria from oil-affected water for the DNA of oil-eating enzymes, and use this to determine their species.

“This blowout could permanently reshuffle the microbial community in the Gulf,” Grimes says. In previous research he found that Vibrio became the dominant type of marine bacteria off the south-eastern US as oil tanker traffic increased after the 1970s.

Grimes also warned that if the oil hits the coastal marshes, it could be there for a decade, causing long-term damage.

Ron Atlas of the University of Louisville, Kentucky, said that the oil-eating microbes already present in seawater will be enough to get rid of any oil that is not physically removed by the clean-up crews - except for insoluble, tarry material that poses little toxic risk.

Fertiliser has already been used to aid the bacterial breakdown of oil that has hit the shore so it lodges in the surface of the oil droplets created by the detergents- right where the bacteria can use them. (ANI)

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