Analysis by Hazen and his colleagues of microbial genes in the dispersed oil plume revealed a variety of hydrocarbon-degraders... Analysis of changes in the oil composition as the plume extended from the wellhead pointed to faster than expected biodegradation rates...Hazen, the first to study oil degradation at such depths, commented that the bacteria were well adapted to eat oil at very cold temperatures, doing their work without much oxygen-- eliminating fears of oxygen dead zones. Also discovered, the dominant microbe in the Gulf spill was a new species, closely related to the members of the Oceanospirillales family. Hazen's most optimistic and controversial claim: bacteria are not only devouring oil, but so much has been eaten that researchers can't find the plume. His research, partly funded by BP, came from a pre-existing 10-year grant and wasn't involved with the spill. Now a new study, released by UC Santa Barbara microbial biochemist David Valentine and his colleagues, presents a different view. The bacteria that attacked the plumes, first digested natural gases like propane, ethane and butane-- all more easily degraded than oil. This caused the growth of bacteria that eventually digested the more complex hydrocarbons. But he's skeptical of Hazen's optimism, "It's hard to imagine these bacteria are capable of taking down all components of oil... it's more complex than that."
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September 20th, 2010
This post is presented by SBE, the Society for Biological Engineering—a global organization of leading engineers and scientists dedicated to advancing the integration of biology with engineering. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, (an apt Old Testament pun) reported that oil from the BP spill was rapidly breaking down. Many scientists were skeptical-- it smelled like spin. The post-Exxon Valdez consensus was directly challenged. But a subsequent study led by Terry Hazen, a microbial ecologist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, after analyzing 200 samples from 17 deep water sites, found that hungry deep-sea bacteria were devouring the oil plume. LBNL's press release said: