Oil-Eating Microbes Of The Deep Sea Could Help Clean Man-Made Oil Spills

Source: Business Insider/Aylin Woodward

Photo: NOAA/Wikimedia Commons 

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Scientists know more about the farthest reaches of deep space than they do about the deepest parts of our planet’s oceans.

In the heart of the Pacific Ocean, some 125 miles north of Guam under nearly 11,000 meters (roughly 7 miles) of ocean, lies the Challenger Deep.

The deepest part of the infamous Mariana Trench — a 43-mile-wide crescent canyon that cuts its way through 1,500 miles of ocean at the edge of two tectonic plates — the Challenger Deep is home to a unique ecosystem of creatures and microorganisms. (It’s also the final resting place of thousands of man-made microplastic pollutants.)

According to a new study published in the journal Microbiome, a group of bacteria trawled from the depths of the Challenger Deep can not only survive its extreme conditions, but also chomp on hydrocarbon molecules found in everyday crude oil and natural gas.

Oil-eating bacteria like these are also found on the ocean’s surface, and helped degrade much of the oily refuse that spilled into the Gulf of Mexico after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. The scientists think these microbial deep ocean oil-eaters can also be used to clean up surface oil spills.

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Photo: NOAA/Wikimedia Commons

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