Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Water 'microhabitats' in oil show potential for extraterrestrial life, oil cleanup: Extremophilic ecosystems writ small

Date:
August 7, 2014
Source:
Washington State University
Summary:
An international team of researchers has found extremely small habitats that increase the potential for life on other planets while offering a way to clean up oil spills on our own. Looking at samples from the world's largest natural asphalt lake, they found active microbes in droplets as small as a microliter, which is about 1/50th of a drop of water.

Water drop (stock image).
Credit: Gianni / Fotolia

An international team of researchers has found extremely small habitats that increase the potential for life on other planets while offering a way to clean up oil spills on our own.

Looking at samples from the world's largest natural asphalt lake, they found active microbes in droplets as small as a microliter, which is about 1/50th of a drop of water.

"We saw a huge diversity of bacteria and archaea," said Dirk Schulze-Makuch, a professor in Washington State University's School of the Environment and the only U.S. researcher on the team. "That's why we speak of an 'ecosystem,' because we have so much diversity in the water droplets."

Writing in the journal Science, the researchers report they also found the microbes were actively degrading oil in the asphalt, suggesting a similar phenomenon could be used to clean up oil spills.

"For me, the cool thing is I got into it from an astrobiology viewpoint, as an analog to Saturn's moon, Titan, where we have hydrocarbon lakes on the surface," said Schulze-Makuch. "But this shows astrobiology has also great environmental applications, because of the biodegradation of oil compounds."

Schulze-Makuch and his colleagues in 2011 found that the 100-acre Pitch Lake, on the Caribbean island of Trinidad, was teeming with microbial life, which is also thought to increase the likelihood of life on Titan.

The new paper adds a new, microscopic level of detail to how life can exist in such a harsh environment.

"We discovered that there are additional habitats where we have not looked at where life can occur and thrive," said Schulze-Makuch.

Analyzing the droplets' isotopic signatures and salt content, the researchers determined that they were not coming from rain or groundwater, but ancient sea water or a brine deep underground.


Story Source:

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


Journal Reference:

  1. R. U. Meckenstock, F. von Netzer, C. Stumpp, T. Lueders, A. M. Himmelberg, N. Hertkorn, P. Schmitt-Kopplin, M. Harir, R. Hosein, S. Haque, D. Schulze-Makuch. Water droplets in oil are microhabitats for microbial life. Science, 2014; 345 (6197): 673 DOI: 10.1126/science.1252215

Cite This Page:

Washington State University. "Water 'microhabitats' in oil show potential for extraterrestrial life, oil cleanup: Extremophilic ecosystems writ small." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 7 August 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/08/140807145738.htm>.
Washington State University. (2014, August 7). Water 'microhabitats' in oil show potential for extraterrestrial life, oil cleanup: Extremophilic ecosystems writ small. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 22, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/08/140807145738.htm
Washington State University. "Water 'microhabitats' in oil show potential for extraterrestrial life, oil cleanup: Extremophilic ecosystems writ small." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/08/140807145738.htm (accessed September 22, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Monday, September 22, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Will Climate Rallies Spur Change?

Will Climate Rallies Spur Change?

Newsy (Sep. 21, 2014) Organizers of the People's Climate March and other rallies taking place in 166 countries hope to move U.N. officials to action ahead of their summit. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
UN's Ban: Climate Change 'defining Issue of Our Time'

UN's Ban: Climate Change 'defining Issue of Our Time'

Reuters - US Online Video (Sep. 21, 2014) United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon marches with hundreds of thousands of people in New York for the international day of action on climate change. Rough Cut (no reporter narration). Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Thousands March in NYC Over Climate Change

Thousands March in NYC Over Climate Change

AP (Sep. 21, 2014) Accompanied by drumbeats, wearing costumes and carrying signs, thousands of demonstrators filled the streets of Manhattan and other cities around the world on Sunday to urge policy makers to take action on climate change. (Sept. 21) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Climate Change Rally Held in India Ahead of UN Summit

Climate Change Rally Held in India Ahead of UN Summit

AFP (Sep. 20, 2014) Some 125 world leaders are expected to commit to action on climate change at a UN summit Tuesday called to inject momentum in struggling efforts to tackle global warming. Duration: 00:41 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins