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Technology

Newly discovered oil-eating bacteria can help clean man-made oil spills

Deep down in the ocean, researchers have discovered new oil-eating bacteria that can eventually help clean up human
Published April 12, 2019

Deep down in the ocean, researchers have discovered new oil-eating bacteria that can eventually help clean up human-made oil spills.

Researchers from University of East Anglia have made a surprising discovery of finding a group of bacteria that eats oil plunging down to a depth of about 36,000ft in Mariana Trench, located in Western Pacific Ocean.

The team gathered samples of the microbial population from the deepest part of the trench. They recreated those environmental conditions in the lab and discovered that some of these bacteria consumed hydrocarbons, primary components in natural gas and petroleum, – in fact, nowhere on Earth had more hydrocarbon-degrading bacteria than the Mariana Trench, reported New Atlas.

“Hydrocarbons are organic compounds that are made of only hydrogen and carbon atoms, and they are found in many places, including crude oil and natural gas,” said author Jonathan Todd. “So these types of microorganisms essentially eat compounds similar to those in oil and then use it for fuel.”

Researchers capture bacteria that eat pollution, breathe electricity

These organisms help contribute to the degradation of oil resulting from things such as man-made oil spills, however, hydrocarbons are also biologically-produced in ocean sediment from the trench’s bottom and also in seawater.

In order to discover where the bacteria got the hydrocarbon from, researchers took samples of water from the surface, and from depths of 6,560, 13,120 and 19,685ft. Great amounts of hydrocarbons were discovered every step of the way.

“We found that hydrocarbons exist as deep as 6,000m below the surface of the ocean and probably even deeper,” said author Nikolai Pedentchouck. “A significant proportion of them probably derived from ocean surface pollution.”

The team suggested that these hydrocarbons might be a survival mechanism by the microbes so that they can cope up with the extreme pressure under such depths.

Author David Lea-Smith, “They may also be acting as a food source for other microbes, which may also consume any pollutant hydrocarbons that happen to sink to the ocean floor. But more research is needed to fully understand this unique environment.”

“Identifying the microbes that produce these hydrocarbons is one of our top priorities, as is understanding the quantity of hydrocarbons released by human activity into this isolated environment," added lead researcher Xiao-Hua Zhang.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2019

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