The Oil Eaters in the Gulf

By now you probably know about the oil spill (if not then shame on you). If you know about the giant oil spill then you probably already know about the mysterious bacteria that scientists estimate has cut the work load nearly in half. But who is this masked savior (OK there technically not masked) who is helping save our planet? Well there are actually 7 types of bacteria that are helping in the gulf.

The first of them is something called Alcanivorax Borkumensis (sometimes referred to as A. borkumensis). It is a rod-shaped bacteria that is not just found cleaning up oil in the gulf but also everywhere from Spain to Canada. They exist in all time low numbers except in the explosion after an oil spill. They specialize in breaking down the alkalines but their waste also helps other bacteria eat oil as well. Scientists are trying to genetically edit it to make it an even more powerful oil eater but sadly thus far they have not succeeded in creating super bacteria.

Considered by some to be the most dangerous component in an oil spill is something called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. These are volatile molecules and are often highly toxic. But luckily nature has a way to deal with this nasty molecules. The way nature deals with it is by using various strains of a bacterial genus called Cyclostasticus. These strains that are native to the gulf can dilute these toxic components by tapping their energy (so there like vampires). Some strains can eat even more dangerous aromatic hydrocarbons like toulene. They even have flagella that makes them move faster. Like the A. borkumensis scientists are busy trying to edit its DNA to make it even more efficient.

We have found the next oil eating bacteria all over the planet. From the cold black poles of arctic and Antarctic. To the warm seas in the gulf and everywhere in between. It is knownn as teh Colwellia genus. More than just survive in a large variety of environments it has the ability to thrive in many of them. Because of this it thought of as one of the more adaptable oil eaters. It is mostly to valuable because most oil eaters have trouble eating oil in cold water. Because of this scientists are trying to take apart these bacteria and see what makes them so special.

Then there is also an order of microbes called Oceanospirillales. We have already looked at one of the strains from the Oceanospirillales the A. borkumensis. But though A. borkumensis which is known as the most powerful the other strains should be noted in their ability to eliminate petroleum.

Here is where we will talk about another alkali eater. Known as the Oleispira. The Oleispira are best known for turning oil into more Oleispira (of course they also use carbon dioxide and water). Sadly Oleispira have been known to create dead zones. They consume large amounts of oxygen as they eat the oil.

Strains from the neptunomonas genus can be found in nearly every oil deposit. They are also known spread out through the oceans. Some of them help in not only eating oil but also decomposing whales and various other animals that have a lot of fatty acid.

Similar to the A. borkumensis the Thalassolituus Oleivorans are known for their ability to consume alkaline materials. But the biggest problem with these bacteria is they do the exact opposite with the A. borkumensis where the A. borkumensis helps other oil eaters Thalassolituus Oleivorans makes other oil eaters in the area less effective.


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