Microbes Find A Home In Oily Water Droplets | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 92 Issue 32 | p. 23 | Concentrates
Issue Date: August 11, 2014 | Web Date: August 12, 2014

Microbes Find A Home In Oily Water Droplets

Studies of an asphalt lake reveal previously unknown degradation of natural petroleum deposits
Department: Science & Technology
News Channels: Environmental SCENE
Keywords: microbe, oil, hydrocarbon, petroleum, extremeophile

The latest extreme environment in which microbes have been discovered to exist is within water droplets trapped in a natural asphalt lake, reports a team led by Rainer U. Meckenstock of the German Research Center for Environmental Health (Science 2014, DOI: 10.1126/science.1252215). Anaerobic microbial degradation of hydrocarbons harms the quality of petroleum reservoirs, but scientists had believed that such activity occurred mostly at geological transition zones between layers of water and oil deposits. Studying oil samples obtained from Pitch Lake on the island of Trinidad, Meckenstock and colleagues found bacterial and archaeal communities in droplets containing merely 1 to 3 µL of water. The microbes appear to be degrading linear aliphatic hydrocarbon chains and aromatic compounds to form oxygenated and sulfonated molecules. The high salinity and isotopic profile of the water droplets indicate they originate deep in Earth. The results show that oil degradation can occur even in extremely small pockets of water far from oil-water transition zones.

 
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Oil froths up on the surface of Trinidad’s Pitch Lake.
Credit: Rainer Meckenstock
Photo of oil on the surface of Pitch Lake
 
Oil froths up on the surface of Trinidad’s Pitch Lake.
Credit: Rainer Meckenstock
[+]Enlarge
A researcher collects oil samples at Pitch Lake.
Credit: Rainer Meckenstock
Photo of a researcher collecting oil samples at Pitch Lake.
 
A researcher collects oil samples at Pitch Lake.
Credit: Rainer Meckenstock
 
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Comments
Tom Zennie (Wed Aug 27 14:50:18 EDT 2014)
Relevant info for oil pipeline corrosion engineers.

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