Microbes Got A Boost From Oil-Leak Propane | September 20, 2010 Issue - Vol. 88 Issue 38 | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 88 Issue 38 | pp. 23-24 | Concentrates
Issue Date: September 20, 2010

Microbes Got A Boost From Oil-Leak Propane

Bacteria feeding off hydrocarbons in the Gulf of Mexico were initially stimulated by a natural-gas appetizer
Department: Science & Technology
News Channels: Environmental SCENE
Keywords: oil spill, Deepwater Horizon, bacteria, natural gas
FLAMING OUT
Natural gas collected from the Gulf of Mexico seafloor near the Deepwater Horizon oil leak is vented to the surface and flared by the drillship Discoverer Enterprise.
Credit: David Valentine
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FLAMING OUT
Natural gas collected from the Gulf of Mexico seafloor near the Deepwater Horizon oil leak is vented to the surface and flared by the drillship Discoverer Enterprise.
Credit: David Valentine

Bacteria feeding off heavy hydrocarbons leaking from the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico appear to have been initially stimulated by the availability of natural gas, a study reveals (Science, DOI: 10.1126/science.1196830). David L. Valentine of the University of California, Santa Barbara, and colleagues investigated microbes in four deep-ocean hydrocarbon gas plumes formed from the leak, both near the wellhead and up to 7 miles away. They found that most of the microbial activity was from respiration of ethane, propane, and butane gases. The group also analyzed DNA from the organisms. Those results show that bacterial communities near the wellhead, where the plume is fresher, contained lower levels of heavy-hydrocarbon-degrading microbes. Farther away, the heavy-hydrocarbon degraders dominated. Conditions have changed since the samples were collected in June, the researchers note, but the study provides scientists a handle on post-spill microbial dynamics and some predictive capability. For example, the researchers predict a series of boom-and-bust bacterial growth cycles in which simple hydrocarbon digesters initially dominate, followed by blooms of bacteria that eat complex hydrocarbons and methane.

 
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