Oil Eating Bacteria Mucking Up Gulf Floor

by Christopher Paul on February 24, 2011

Even though the most media outlets and the American people have forgotten about the BP Gulf Oil Spill from last year, scientists are hard at work determining the long term effects of the disaster. What they are seeing is much of the oil laying on the ocean floor – not floating in the water or on top as one might expect. Samantha Joye, an oceanographer and biogeochemist, thinks the oil is sinking to the floor after getting trapped by oil eating bacteria in a digestive slime.

The key ingredient of the slime is what she terms bacterial spit, a material that, like laundry detergent, helps break apart large oil globules. Such surfactants are secreted by many oil-eating bacteria and render the oil easier for them to digest.

According to Joye, she could see the mucus in underwater images which were different than what oil looks like when is chemically dispersed. The mucus might be good for the bacteria but not for other life. In fact scientists see all types of dead ocean floor life like crabs, starfish, coral, and even jellyfish that turned up in sediment samples.

Gulf Floor Fouled By Bacterial Oil Feast – via Boing Boing

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