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Bacteria superheroes: A new way to combat oil spills

Bacteria superheroes: A new way to combat oil spills

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Anna RusakAnna Rusak,27.12.2023 11:40

Bacteria are now capable of breaking down not only plastic but also oil. They are the unsung heroes that continue to help us.

Ah, those bacteria! They often get a bad reputation, but sometimes they surprise us by proving they can be quite helpful. We are discovering that they can be beneficial to us in many ways, particularly when it comes to environmental issues.

Recently, it was reported that some bacteria can decompose plastic. Now, it has been discovered that certain bacteria can speed up the process of oil decomposition.

What is the problem?

Oil spills are a significant issue that we are all aware of. You may have seen videos of oil spills in the middle of the ocean, which can be catastrophic. While it would be ideal if such incidents did not occur at all, unfortunately, water-based oil and gas production is unlikely to end anytime soon.

Therefore, we must accept that oil spills will happen occasionally, and we need to be prepared to deal with them more efficiently. Bacteria can play a vital role in helping us mitigate such disasters more quickly and effectively.

Bacteria as superheroes

Researchers from the University of Calgary have published a study in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology, which shows that certain types of bacteria living in the Labrador Sea can break down fossil fuels.

It all started when Sean Murphy, a student, wanted to investigate if there was any way to mitigate the consequences of potential oil spills. He dedicated his Master's degree to the research, and his mentor, Dr Casey Hubert, decided to investigate the matter further.

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The scientists simulated an oil spill by combining mud from the Arctic's bottom with artificial seawater, diesel or crude oil. They set the temperature closer to that of the Labrador Sea (about 4 degrees Celsius) and left the samples for several weeks.

They found that the bacteria Paraperlucidibaca, Cycloclasticus and Zhongshania had effectively decomposed the oil spill.

Why is it important?

Given the recent increase in industrial activity in these waters, the discovery of powerful bacteria capable of breaking down oil spills is significant. While preventing such disasters is always preferable, knowing that we have a viable defence in the event of an accident is reassuring.

Dr Hubert has suggested that these bacteria may even be the key to fighting oil spills in the Arctic. It is remarkable how nature continues to help us despite humanity's mistreatment of the environment.

Source: Applied and Environmental Microbiology

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