Not only are human workers trying to clean up BP’s oil spill, but bacteria workers are looking at the task as a feast. Alcanivorax bacterium can be found munching on bits of oil, a convenient taste palette to increase the clean up efforts. However, how will the increase of bacteria effect the remaining wildlife? NY Times has the report:
Among the hidden stars of the gulf cleanup is an oil-hungry bacterium that Dr. Seuss could have named — Alcanivorax. It and fellow microbes are breaking down a significant amount of the oil that gushed into the environment from BP’s runaway well, scientists say. The microbial feasting is known as biodegradation.
On Wednesday, a report released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said early observations showed that the oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill “is biodegrading quickly,” adding that scientists were working to measure how quickly and how much of the escaped oil the microbial hordes could consume.
“Until it is biodegraded, naturally or chemically dispersed oil, even in small amounts, can be toxic to vulnerable species,” the report says in pointing to the importance of the microbes.
The report said the swarms were dining on most remaining aspects of the spill — dispersed oil as well as oil forming a sheen on or just below the surface.
“Colleagues who have been sampling tell me that the intrinsic biodegration rates are high,” said Ronald M. Atlas, a microbiologist at the University of Louisville and past president of the American Society for Microbiology. “I believe that most of the oil will not have a significant impact. That’s been the story with spills that stay offshore.”
Dr. Atlas cautioned, however, that microbe degradation in polluted marshes “should be considerably slower.”
And other scientists warn that the sudden appearance of swarms of oil-hungry microbes in the Gulf of Mexico could have drawbacks, saying they might consume so much oxygen that oxygen levels drop precipitously, threatening other sea life.
Continues at NY Times …