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Bacteria supplemented their diet to clean up after Deep Water Horizon oil spill
Date:8/30/2013

rrounding environmental conditions, we can develop ways to intervene to support the natural clean-up process," says Professor Kostka. "However, we need to do this in a very measured and targeted way, to avoid long-term, unintended damage to the ecosystem. For example, in the past, nitrogen fertiliser has been sprayed onto contaminated beaches to speed up the work of the bacteria. Our analysis shows that, where bacteria can get this nitrogen naturally, such drastic intervention may not be necessary."

The genetic analysis carried out by Professor Kostka and his colleague Konstantinos Konstantinidis at Georgia Tech can show exactly how the oil-degrading bacteria are working at each part of an affected coastline, making it possible to identify which beaches are most effective at self-cleaning and target mitigation efforts -- such as offshore booms -- at the most vulnerable areas.

But not all the bacteria thrived on a diet of oil. Professor Kostka's research showed that some bacteria which play an important role in the ecosystem of the beaches experienced a sharp decline following the contamination in June 2010.

"There's a tendency to focus on the short-term, visible effects of an oil spill on the beach and assume that once the beach looks 'clean' then all is back to normal," he says. "Our analysis shows some of the invisible impact in the loss of these important microbes. We need to be aware of the long-term chronic damage both a spill -- and in some cases our attempts to deal with it -- can cause."


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