Microbiologists from Bangor University in the UK have potentially found a natural organism that can clean up oil spills. The microbe used in the experiments, Alcanivorax borkumensis, was found to be extremely adapted to oil degradation. This marine microbe lives solely on oil and dies after consuming all oil in its surroundings. Microbiologists at the University began trial experiments on heavy oil products to see if this application could be brought to the Gulf of Mexico spill. The researchers collected salt water from the North Sea and the Mediterranean to see if the microbes could work in different salt-water environments. The bacteria managed to remove 95% of the oil from the controlled experiments. The microbes are already present in the oceans of the world, but their numbers need to be increased in order to handle the BP spill according to the researchers. The microbes naturally occur on microscopic algae, and need to be regulated in order to increase their numbers in the controlled environment, and potentially in the wild. Finding a way to boost their numbers in the Gulf could help in bioremediation efforts to free the Gulf of the oil flowing into it. Professor Christoph Gertler, of the School of Biological Sciences, believes that this is the only viable solution to removing the oil from the Gulf, “Experiments in the lab have shown that — given good growth conditions – the bacteria initiate oil degradation very quickly within a week after the oil spill and finish it within two months.” If this is true, and a microbe does exist that can naturally provide bioremediation for the Gulf, then why hasn’t this been covered by the media? Why are we not hearing about it from our government, or from BP? Even if it is partially true, then why are we not applying its attributes to helping us rid the Gulf of the oil? We need solutions to solving the spill, and if this potential solution is found to have merit, then it needs to be part of cleaning up the Gulf.
Photo: Alcanivorax borkumensis microbe Photo Courtesy: Bangor University, UK