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Some bacteria are fed with crude oil

Our constant need for oil results from 70 oil spills of small scale each day, and there are even more catastrophes.

Cleaning the stains themselves and rehabilitating the contaminated area is usually a long process, and the way it works depends on the type of condensed mixture, water temperature and so on.

Following a petroleum disaster at Deepwater Horizon, owned by British Petrol (BP), which occurred in 2010, the oil stain spread nearly three months after the sinking of the platform itself. In the disaster, about 650 million liters of crude oil poured into the sea. Small droplets of crude oil were formed at 1,500 m below sea level, but it was not entirely clear what was happening with these droplets.

However, bacteria that feed crude oil have largely cleansed the Mexican Gulf from pollution after the aforementioned catastrophe. Some bacteria feed on decomposed organic food, some can make photosynthesis, some receive energy from sources such as iron ore and uranium, and some feed on hydrocarbons, which actually make crude oil

Bacteria have evolved so much that they use all available energy sources. Oil is pretty old energy and it is certain that some types of bacteria used millions of years before man to use oil that was easily exited from underwater cracks.

It appears that some breeds of bacteria specialize in certain hydrocarbon fractions. Thus Oceanospirillales bacteria eat alkanes, Cycloclasticus aromatics are used, which are otherwise very toxic to most other organisms. Methylococcaceae are bacteria that love methane, and Colwellia ethan. These bacteria belong to the classes Gammaproteobacteria, Flavobacteria and Rhodobacteria.

However, scientists were not sure if the bacteria could really clean the oil stains and at exactly the speed. It has also been noted that bacteria of some substance are more rapidly degraded, while some other molecules are too large to disperse.

In order to examine all of those doubts, Gary Andersen of Lawrence Berkeley of the National Laboratories in California has created the clouds of scattered droplets of crude oil in seawater, collected near the disaster and tracking the development of bacterial flora. They did so quite a real in vivo simulation of what is happening in the field of oil stains.

They then succeeded in identifying all kinds of bacteria that used crude oil molecules and those genes responsible for providing each of the individual types of bacteria to fuel oil hydrocarbons. The work of the team was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

It was proven that bacteria were able to successfully remove crude oil from the water. Such research and study of bacteria that metabolize crude oil are extremely important to marine ecology so that it can respond promptly to the next similar ecological catastrophe

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