Oil-hungry microbes aid spill cleanup

NEW YORK (UPI) — Among workers involved in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill cleanup will be some very tiny ones, U.S. researchers say — microbes that love to munch on crude oil.

One of the hidden stars of the cleanup effort is an oil-hungry bacterium called Alcanivorax, one of a class of microbes that can disassemble hydrocarbons, the building blocks of oil, The New York Times reported Wednesday.

It and other similar microbes can clean up oil in a process called biodegradation.

A report released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said early observations showed oil from the spill “is biodegrading quickly.”

Microbial swarms were feasting on most remaining effects of the spill, including dispersed oil and oil forming a sheen on or just below the surface, the report said.

“Colleagues who have been sampling tell me that the intrinsic biodegradation rates are high,” Ronald M. Atlas, a microbiologist at the University of Louisville, said.

“I believe that most of the oil will not have a significant impact. That’s been the story with spills that stay offshore.”

Copyright 2010 by United Press International

Received & published by Henry Sapiecha

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