Bacteria Might Hold The Answers In The Global Battle Against Oil Spills

The Gulf of Mexico is bouncing back from the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Scientists say it’s all thanks to one busy bacteria.

Image by Gerd Altmann/Pixabay.


Bottom-dwelling bacteria have eaten a large part of the oil dispersed during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill much to the surprise of scientists.

When it comes to cleanup and collective action, nature still has some surprises in store even for the most enterprising. Case in point: The Gulf of Mexico, still recovering from the Deepwater Horizon disaster, has a new ally — bacteria.

That punishing 2010 leak churned almost 5 million barrels of oil into the surrounding seawater while the project platform itself infamously blazed away. Old fears of the devastation wrought by offshore drilling accidents have been rekindled by the Trump administration, which just rolled back cautionary Obama-era rules rushed through in Deepwater’s grisly wake.

And at least some industry analysts expect 2018 to be the year drilling begins an upward trajectory, with oil and gas production likely reaching all-time highs.

In the meantime, ecologists have discovered there’s a new tool in the global kit to mitigate and reverse undersea damage from oil. Thanks to one unintended consequence of the scramble to stop the Deepwater spill from doing even more damage, studies have found that the Gulf’s rebound owes a great deal to one special bacteria.

Called Candidatus Bermanella macondoprimitus, the strain, native to Gulf waters, jumped at the chance to glom on to vast stretches of oil submerged by the chemicals used to push the brown stuff down from the water’s surface. Quick to grow under the right conditions, the Candidatus went to work on the droplets of oil, degrading it to the point where, today, lead researcher and University of California microbial ecologist Gary Andersen says marine life is so healthy that fishing has returned to the area. It’s a welcome addition to degradation research published several years ago by University of Georgia marine scientists like Samantha Joye.

Even more importantly, Andersen’s team managed to sequence the Candidatus genome to hone in on exactly which genes go to work against the oil. The work has big implications: In theory, any team of scientists with the right expertise can run genome tests on bacteria local to any spill site, determining what to expect from the microbes and how best to work to leverage their results.

Resilience is hardly a license for irresponsibility. But the resources for bouncing back from adversity can come from places you don’t always see in advance.

Photo by Josh Couch on Unsplash

Christopher Columbus, Alexander Hamilton, William Shakespeare, and Sir Walter Scott are getting company. Statues of the famous men are scattered across Central Park in New York City, along with 19 others. But they'll finally be joined by a few women.

Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Sojourner Truth are the subjects of a new statue that will be on display along The Mall, a walkway that runs through the park from 66th to 72nd street. It will be dedicated in August of next year, which is fittingly the 100-year anniversary of the 19th Amendment that granted women the right to vote.

Currently, just 3% of statues in New York City are dedicated to women. Out of 150 statues of historical figures across the city, only five statues are of historical women, including Joan of Arc, Golda Meir, Gertrude Stein, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Harriet Tubman.

Keep Reading Show less

It's easy to become calloused to everyday headlines with messages like, "the world is ending" and "everything is going extinct." They're so prevalent, in fact, that the severity of these statements has completely diminished to the point that no one pays them any attention. This environmental negativity (coined "eco-phobia") has led us to believe that all hope is lost for wildlife. But luckily, that isn't the case.

Historically, we have waited until something is near the complete point of collapse, then fought and clawed to bring the species numbers back up. But oftentimes we wait so long that it's too late. Creatures vanish from the Earth altogether. They go extinct. And even though I don't think for a single second that we should downplay the severity of extinction, if we can flip this on its head and show that every once in a while a species we have given up on is actually still out there, hanging on by a thread against all odds, that is a story that deserves to be told. A tragic story of loss becomes one about an animal that deserves a shot at preservation and a message of hope the world deserves to hear.

As a wildlife biologist and tracker who has dedicated his life to the pursuit of animals I believe have been wrongfully deemed extinct, I spend most of my time in super remote corners of the Earth, hoping to find some shred of evidence that these incredible creatures are still out there. And to be frank, I'm pretty damn good at it!

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet

For more than 20 years. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) has served the citizens of Maine in the U.S. Senate. For most of that time, she has enjoyed a hard-fought reputation as a moderate Republican who methodically builds bridges and consensus in an era of political polarization. To millions of political observers, she exemplified the best of post-partisan leadership, finding a "third way" through the static of ideological tribalism.

However, all of that has changed since the election of Donald Trump in 2016. Voters in Maine, particularly those who lean left, have run out of patience with Collins and her seeming refusal to stand up to Trump. That frustration peaked with the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

Keep Reading Show less
NHM Vienna/Hans Reschreiter

Wealth inequality has been a hot topic of discussion as of late, but it's something that's occurred all throughout history. Class structure is a complicated issue, especially when you consider that haves and have nots have been in existence for over 4,000 years.

A study published in Science took a look at over 100 late Neolithic and early Bronze Age skeletons found in a burial site in southern Germany. The study "shed light on the complexity of social status, inheritance rules, and mobility during the Bronze Age." Partly by looking at their teeth and the artifacts they were buried with, researchers were able to discover that wealth inequality existed almost 4,000 years ago. "Our results reveal that individual households lasting several generations consisted of a high-status core family and unrelated low-status individuals, a social organization accompanied by patrilocality and female exogamy, and the stability of this system over 700 years," the study said.

Keep Reading Show less
via / Flickr and Dimitri Rodriguez / Flickr

Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign looks to be getting a huge big shot in the arm after it's faced some difficulties over the past few weeks.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a leading voice in the Democratic parties progressive, Democratic Socialist wing, is expected to endorse Sanders' campaign at the "Bernie's Back" rally in Queens, New York this Saturday.

Fellow member of "the Squad," Ilhan Omar, endorsed him on Wednesday.

Keep Reading Show less