microbe works without significantly depleting oxygen in the water, researchers led by Terry Hazen at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, California, reported Tuesday in the online journal Sciencexpress.
Their findings are based on more than 200 samples collected from 17 deep-water sites between May 25 and June 2. They found that the dominant microbe in the oil plume is a new species, closely related to members of Oceanospirillales.
This microbe thrives in cold water, with temperatures in the deep recorded at 5 degrees Celsius (41 Fahrenheit).
Hazen suggested that the bacteria may have adapted over time due to periodic leaks and natural seeps of oil in the Gulf. Scientists also had been concerned that oil-eating activity by microbes would consume large amounts of oxygen in the water and create a "dead zone" dangerous to other life. The new study found that oxygen saturation outside the oil plume was 67 percent while within the plume it was 59 percent.
The research was supported by an existing grant with the Energy Biosciences Institute, a partnership led by the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Illinois that is funded by a $500 million, 10-year grant from BP. Other support came from the U.S. Department of Energy and the University of Oklahoma Research Foundation.