After the Deepwater Horizon explosion in 2010 there was a huge amount of oil released into the Gulf of Mexico. There’s simply no way to sugarcoat the news on that one… we lost a lot of oil into the water. A number of containment technologies were deployed, keeping much of the potential damage (though not all of it) in check. This included new chemical compounds which caused the oil to congeal and sink, rather than drifting ashore in vastly larger amounts than we saw. But puzzled environmentalists have returned to one intriguing question over and over again in the years since the spill: what happened to all the oil? Scientists have been scratching their heads trying to make the math work out for quite a while now because there was a lot more oil leaked out of the drill site than ever showed up on the beaches or was recovered from surface slicks. Sure, some of it was trapped in deeper ocean layers under thermal barriers, but much of it still seemed to be “missing” from the final calculations.

We now have a new suspect in this mystery and it’s nobody from Greenpeace or Exxon. There are tiny organisms in the ocean which seem to be capable of “eating” the oil in the water and cleaning up the ocean on their own. (AT&T Live News)

Microscopic bacteria played a crucial role in the cleanup of the devastating 2010 BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill, scientists who decoded the genomes of the oil-eating organisms reported Monday.

The findings published in the Nature Microbiology journal suggest that certain bacteria have far greater potential for containing chemical pollution in the ocean than previously thought.An explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in 2010 killed 11 men off the coast of Louisiana and caused 134 million gallons (507 million litres) of oil to spew into Gulf waters…

Assistant professor Brett Baker and post-doctoral researcher Nina Dombrowski, both from the University of Texas at Austin, sequenced the DNA of the oil-eating microbes to find out more.”We found a number of bacteria surprisingly capable of dealing with the more dangerous compounds,” Dombrowski said in a statement.”This has implications for future oil spills and how we take advantage of the natural environmental response.”

This isn’t the first example of Mother Nature taking care of her own housecleaning when it comes to hydrocarbons. Scientists have already discovered strange forms of bacteria which not only live, but thrive on frozen methane seeps on the ocean floor and in the northern permafrost. These so called extremophiles seem to show up all over the place and demonstrate how life finds a way to make use of energy in pretty much every form it takes. It’s a slow process to be sure, but nature tends to move at a more casual pace than advancements in human technology.

There are two possible lessons to consider from all of this new data. First, the possibility exists that we might be able to cultivate and utilize these organisms for a natural, organic path to cleaning up spills. (As opposed to dumping even more chemicals into the water to fight them as we did with Deepwater) But on a longer timeline, the Earth is clearly remarkably resilient and comes up with ways to balance itself out and regenerate even when we screw up and make a mess of things as we are occasionally wont to do. Rather than fighting technology in the name of green warrior causes, perhaps we can find a way to let nature help us out and work in tandem with the needs of humans. She seems to be better at it than us anyway.

bacteria