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Gulf oil spill researcher: Bacteria ate some toxins, but worst remain, research finds

Date:
July 31, 2014
Source:
Florida State University
Summary:
Bacteria in the Gulf of Mexico consumed many of the toxic components of the oil released during the Deepwater Horizon spill in the months after the spill, but not the most toxic contaminants, new research has found.

A Florida State University researcher found that bacteria in the Gulf of Mexico consumed many of the toxic components of the oil released during the Deepwater Horizon spill in the months after the spill, but not the most toxic contaminants.

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In two new studies conducted in a deep sea plume, Assistant Professor Olivia Mason found a species of bacteria called Colwellia likely consumed gaseous hydrocarbons and perhaps benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene compounds that were released as part of the oil spill.

But, her research also showed that bacteria did not consume the most toxic parts of the oil spill in the water column plume or in the oil that settled on the seafloor.

The most toxic contaminants are called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons or PAHs. PAHs are a group of semi-volatile organic compounds that are present in crude oil and can cause long-term health problems such as cancer.

"Those PAHs could persist for a long time, particularly if they are buried in the ocean floor where lack of oxygen would slow PAH degradation by microorganisms," Mason said. "They're going to persist in the environment and have deleterious effects on whatever is living in the sediment."

When the Deepwater Horizon spill occurred, more than 4 million barrels of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico. Some of that oil has never been accounted for, and thus has unknown environmental and health consequences for the region.

Mason and colleagues investigated the oil deposits on 64 sediment samples in different areas around the oil wellhead.

To understand the functional capacity of the microorganisms to degrade oil, microbial DNA was sequenced in 14 of those samples. Of those 14, seven of the samples were so contaminated with PAHs that they exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's water quality benchmarks for aquatic life.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Florida State University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Olivia U. Mason, James Han, Tanja Woyke, Janet K. Jansson. Single-cell genomics reveals features of a Colwellia species that was dominant during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Frontiers in Microbiology, 2014; 5 DOI: 10.3389/fmicb.2014.00332

Cite This Page:

Florida State University. "Gulf oil spill researcher: Bacteria ate some toxins, but worst remain, research finds." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 31 July 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/07/140731095318.htm>.
Florida State University. (2014, July 31). Gulf oil spill researcher: Bacteria ate some toxins, but worst remain, research finds. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 31, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/07/140731095318.htm
Florida State University. "Gulf oil spill researcher: Bacteria ate some toxins, but worst remain, research finds." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/07/140731095318.htm (accessed March 31, 2015).

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