The ecology of oil in the ocean

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Our attention is drawn to major oil spills like Deepwater Horizon and Exxon Valdez but more oil goes into the Oceans every year from naturally occurring seeps and spills.

And the critters do just fine - from Max-Planck-Gesellschaft:

Oil as energy source for deep-sea creatures
At asphalt volcanoes in the Gulf of Mexico that spew oil, gas and tar, mussels and sponges live in symbiosis with bacteria providing them with food. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology and colleagues from the USA have now discovered deep-sea animals living in symbiosis with bacteria that use oil as an energy source and appear to thrive on short-chained alkanes in the oil. According to the researchers, bacteria closely related to the symbionts, which bloomed during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, used this ability to degrade the oil in the sea.

Stench and heat when a road is paved, black tar clumps at the beach that stick to your feet – asphalt does not make for a homey habitat. And yet it forms the basis for a flourishing ecosystem of mussels, crabs, worms, sponges and many other animals.

In the depths of the Gulf of Mexico, oil and tar seep from the ocean floor and form bizarre structures reminiscent of cooled lava – so-called asphalt volcanoes. Researchers from Bremen, Germany, and the USA discovered these volcanoes nearly 15 years ago. These exotic environments still have many surprises in store, such as the one shown now in a study published in Nature Microbiology by an international research group led by Maxim Rubin-Blum and Nicole Dubilier from the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology in Bremen, Germany.

You need to remember that these critters hit the genetic lottery - there are a lot of other species that are killed by oil in the environment so this is not saying that we should not be careful. What this is saying is that the path is very much open to ways to remediate from a spill the next time one happens.

Culture these organisms and disperse them at an oil spill. They will break down the oil and die off as their food becomes scarcer and scarcer so you are not changing the native population that much. Very cool!

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This page contains a single entry by DaveH published on June 30, 2017 8:37 PM.

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