Microbes Providing Major Aid to Gulf of Mexico Cleanup?

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This undated handout image shows microbes degrading oil (upper right) in the deepwater plume from the BP oil spill in the Gulf

REUTERS/Hoi-Ying Holman Group/Handout

Forget the ‘static kill.’ A new study shows that bacteria, not brains, are helping accelerate the oil spill recovery.

Five days ago, one set of scientists generated a bleak picture surrounding the Deepwater Horizon leak. Despite reports that most of the BP-induced environmental disaster had dissipated, this study suggested that a Manhattan-sized oil plume — 22 miles long and a mile wide — was lurking 3,000 feet deep in the Gulf of Mexico.

On Tuesday, a 360-degree scientific turn surfaced, in the form of a newly discovered oil-eating microbe. The AP sifts its way through the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s findings, which state that there is “a great potential for bacteria to help dispose of oil plumes in the deep-sea.”

That potential stems from an unexpected positive. Using 200-plus samples from 17 different underwater locations, the Berkeley, Calif.-based group found that the catastrophic presence of millions of barrels oil stimulated a new form of bacteria. The microbes are related to Oceanospirillales, thriving in cold temperatures to break up the oil without distorting the water’s oxygen levels.