Posts Tagged ecosystem

The Gulf Spill And Oil Eating Microbes

Posted by on Thursday, 13 May, 2010

Not So Hungry?


If you’re just getting over a coma, first of all, welcome back.  You will be the last to hear this but,  last month, a large oil drilling platform, leased to British Petroleum, exploded and sank,  releasing hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude oil into the Gulf Of Mexico.  As of now, the oil’s still flowing.

You’re right. This isn’t very good for the ecosystem.


MISTERScienceAintSoBad wasn’t surprised to receive the following letter.

MisterSASB: How ya doin’, Man? I can’t believe those blankety blank Brits, lettin’ their frigin’ oil contaminate our water like that. I contributed my pantyhose and I pretty much sheared my poodle naked for those new oil booms?But here’s my question. What about bugs? Aren’t there bugs that’ll eat that oil? Why don’t we sprinkle them around? I’ll take my answer off the air. – NoCount19


Dear NoCount:

Nice of you to ask me the hard ones.

Sure. There are bacteria that  enjoy eating oil. Good thing too. If there weren’t we would REALLY be in a mess since we human are slobs. This Gulf thing’s an extreme example, but, believe me, the oil chompers in nature don’t go long between meals.

It’s true that bacteria have been cooked up in labs just for this purpose but the varieties of bacteria that live in the wild are hard to beat (article in Science Insider). The best  approach seems to be to spread nutrients around the beaches so the microbes that’re already out there will go crazy. They can do a hell of a job in a few months .

But I don’t want to be MISTERPollyanna here . This amount of oil will hurt the crap out of fish and plants and no hungry bugs’re gonna change that reality. Bacteria and sunlight combine to greatly limit the damage from moderate amounts of oil but an article in National Geographic (Christine Dell’Amore) explains the difference between oil (which nature CAN handle somewhat) and thick layered GOBS of oil which truly has the potential to do terrible damage to our fragile world.


The future could be brighter. Work at the German Research Center for Biotechnology on alcanivorax borkumensis may get “human introduced” microbes back into the game. Alcanivorax borkumensis really thrives on oil. It shows up, after awhile,  in places that are contaminated. Uninhibited by the fact that much of the nitrogen in oil is inorganic, it can get its nitrogen in any form, organic OR inorganic.  This strange bacterium could give us substantial help in living with the side effects of our energy needs.