Good News for a Change, Or More Faulty Science? Newly-Discovered Species of Bacteria Claimed to be Breaking Down Oil in Deepwater Plumes in the Gulf

George Washington's picture

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Fishhawk's picture

You summed it up nicely, blindman.  The current 'announcement,' funded by BP, has more PR value than any additional contribution to science.  It isn't BS, it's PR.  IOW, while it is at least somewhat true, it isn't news, it's propaganda.  We always knew the Gulf would eventually repair itself, although all those creatures, large and small, that were killed by/during the disruption, will stay dead.  But to hear BP's paid scientists tell it, 'Whee, it's all good now.'

bigkahuna's picture

This is a load of BS.

mitack's picture

Trust your gov. Allways. Especially when it says:

"Dont worry, we'll fix ya- we got some new species of bacteris here..."

God save us all from ourselves...


Fishhawk's picture

Blindman, under suitable conditions, bacteria will self-select, that is the successful ones will proliferate and basically out-reproduce all others until the whole colony consists of those bacteria that have what it takes to eat whatever is available.  I personally trained some bacteria to degrade dichlorobutene, which the EPA at that time claimed could not be treated by biological degradation.  Many bacteria like oil; the oil plume may have selected for some specific types due to the LAS (laurel alkane sulfonate) detergent.  The butyl ether is candy for bacteria; they love ethers of all types.

blindman's picture


 i get it.  the bacteria own this place and are varied and sundry to resolve

all debts public and private, back to the basic elements.   it is the timing

and the interim environmental and ecologic shift or shock that is being

finessed,  the responsibility to respect other operators in the environment.

that is the fishing industry.  the tourist industry.  the bird sanctuaries etc..

the inhabitants, human.  the laborers and hired hands,  not to forget the 11. 

so yes, bacteria will resolve all this eventually but

just because they are the foundation of life on earth and act accordingly

does not relieve the stress on all other living things that have to navigate

historic normal bacterial counts and occurrences and their sudden changes due to

"pollution"/nutrients/agricultural waste etc...  

i think this latest scientific release is politically, bp, juiced.  that is all i'm saying.

as always with "news", follow the fiat money, politics, power play-grab.

science used to massage the corporate conscience borders on propaganda

and if it, the science, is compromised by that political interest, which i fear say

it usually is as it is expensive and requires ongoing funding, then it becomes

something other than science.  it becomes a tool of oppression.   a body of lies.

you must know.  funding is usually a tip off.  call me incredulous/suspicious. 

Fishhawk's picture

When adapted bacteria degrade hydrocarbons, they proceed through the Krebbs Cycle, adding a hydrogen atom, then an oxygen atom (makes an alcohol), then deprotonate the alcohol (makes a ketone), then another oxygen (makes an acid), then splits off a CO2 molecule and a methyl group, which the bacteria keeps to make more of itself.  The process continues down to the last drop, so nothing is left but the bacteria, which kept 20 to 50% of the original hydrocarbon, and some CO2.  The bacteria slowly die off after the food is gone, first consuming its own mass (endogenous respiration), then die and break down into other hydrocarbons, which its dying neighbors eat.  A large bacteria bloom, such as would occur when there is a large amount of food available (like a big oil plume) would, upon dying, produce its own oxygen deficit sufficient to cause a fish kill.

cossack55's picture

Fish, ever read The Last Gasp?

dark pools of soros's picture

so they relabeled Corexit as bacteria??

trav7777's picture

of course this will happen.

If you put food in front of animals, you'll draw more of them.  They'll multiply with the abundance.  Put a whole bunch of shit out and see how many more flies you get.

But this won't save the fish in the near-term.  The death to various animals and whatnot will continue, however, the Gulf will right itself eventually.  Fishing will have to be destroyed just like it was in a lot of the Pac NW when the clearcut soil runoffs choked the spawning grounds.  Nature will clean itself up eventually.

All this kvetching over species is a bit misguided.  There's a high probability that within the next 100M years, 75-90% of species will get wiped out.  It's happened every so often on this planet, big dieoff events.  So we shouldn't weep for "Mother Earth," she will outlast us.

We've multiplied as the oil production curve has permitted us too. Study graphs of world population overlayed atop the coal and oil ages.  We've grown like these bacteria will.  And when the supply peaks, their population will crash.  In fact, a study of the rapid growth and subsequent collapse of bacteria populations as they outrace their energy supply should be something that we study and enact public policy on.

Next time I hear someone condemn Bama's science czar for being a eugenicist or wanting to sterilize people, I may shit bricks.  WTF else is our alternative?  We cannot keep growing forever and the consumption glut in the West that has led to lower population growth cannot continue indefinitely.

There's a reason that this blessed plot now supports more than 300M people when the injuns numbered only a fraction thereof and it wasn't because they were at ALL in "harmony" with the land.  Every large land mammal on this continent was extincted within the last 10,000 years, anything bigger than a bison.  You can see their fossils at natural history museums.  The peace-loving, nature-harmonious, noble savages had a hand in that.

cossack55's picture

Nature would go a long way in helping herself out if she were to pop a 10.0 trembler under DC. Throw in SoCal for the hell of it.

thesapein's picture

Particularly, the giant sloth of North America was likely hunted to extinction by the introduction of humans, however, we don't really know who or what did them in for sure.

But I think there's a lesson here, nonetheless, if we consider characteristics of sloths.


Humor aside, if a person one day wakes up and realizes that they are not immortal and will most likely die one day, should they then turn into a nihilist and consider suicide? If not, how is this different for a species that realizes the same? Why feel so defeated before you're defeated? You sound like a quiter. What if more people means more resources, more ideas, more evolution of the species? Maybe you should think about investing in resources instead of trying to kill them, unless they're trying to kill you or your resources, then, yeah, I suppose... But I digress. My point is that every species alive today, including humans, lives because they continuously adapted to new challenges. "Homo Sapien" is an arbitrary label tacked on to describe just our most recent parents, however, "we" have actually survived for billions of years which could be traced back from parent to offspring all the way back to whatever we think of as the beginning of life. So our species will certainly have to continue this evolution or become extinct. You seem to be of the going extinct camp. I'm not giving up after all these billions of years without at least trying to change. 

1100-TACTICAL-12's picture

Sounds like Monsanto is in the oil bug business.

blindman's picture

here is another take on it..notice the use of ....assumption and speculation to get to

the happy ending,  no cameras or videotape please.



 "The conflict between the results are striking. Other researchers warn that there’s just too little data to draw any conclusions. But the new findings are at least encouraging. “We saw the same plume they did,” said Terry Hazen, an ecologist and oil spill specialist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. “We found that very large proportions of genes from water in theplume have the ability to produce enzymes that break down the oil.” As with last week’s study, Hazen’s involved samples taken from the deep-sea oil plume that in late June was 22 miles long, one mile wide and 650 feet thick, and was published in Science. The previous study, led by researchers from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, found few signs microbial activity around the oil. From those measurements, it seemed that months would pass before bugs broke down the oil. The WHOI team didn’t look directly at bacteria in the water, but used oxygen depletion — caused by bugs multiplying and going into metabolic overdrive while eating — as a sign of their activity. By contrast, Hazen’s team extracted microbial DNA from plume water samples, sequenced the genes and identified their functions. Many of the genes produce enzymes that break down some of the compounds in crude oil. The researchers also identified a previously-unknown strain of ostensibly oil-gobbling Oceanospirillum that doesn’t consume oxygen. Its activity would thus have gone unnoticed by the WHOI team. “That particular species becomes dominant in the plume. It out competes some of the other bacteria that are normally present. It can break down the oil quite well,” said Hazen, who noted that the Gulf’s deep-sea microbes have evolved to handle crude oil that seeps naturally from the seafloor. When Hazen’s team put oil samples in a laboratory setup designed to mimick Gulf conditions, it had a half-life of between one and six days. And according to Hazen, the researchers have found no sign of the plume in the last three weeks, suggesting its breakdown. But according to WHOI oceanographer Richard Camilli, the plume could already be hundreds of miles from its previous location, and Hazen’s team could simply have missed it. “”The plume is not a stationary object,” he told the Wall Street Journal. Other experts advised patience in interpreting the findings. University of South Florida mirobioal ecologist John Paul, part of a recent study that found oil in Florida fish spawning beds and contradicted federal claims of the oil’s disappearance, wasn’t convinced by the new results. The differences in bacterial abundance, diversity and hydrocarbon degrading potential are “slight” between plume samples and regular Gulf seawater, said Paul. According to University of Maryland aquatic toxicologist Carys Mitchelmore, Hazen’s team only measured the breakdown of select compounds in the oil. “There’s lots of other chemicals in the oil,” she said. She also stressed that it’s essential to identify what happens when oil is degraded. That catch-all term implies that it just vanishes, but “sometimes things can be degraded into more toxic components,” said Mitchelmore. The latest study did not make those measurements, nor did it test how microbes interacted with chemical oil disperspants used during the disaster. “The big take-home is that we don’t know much about many things related to this spill, the oil fate and its effects” said Mitchelmore. “There are huge data gaps and uncertainties, conflicting data from many aspects, and this will continue to happen based on the huge complexity of studying this.” “Above all,” said Mitchelmore of the latest study, “note this is all based on 17 samples from the field.” "


do the conclusions resulting in headlines from this "study" not appear to be based

on assumptions that have the air/err of fiction.  as in " laboratory setup designed to mimic ".. ( mimic )  details are critical here?   perhaps available in the full study for $15, surely.


 "And according to Hazen, the researchers have found no sign of the plume in the last three weeks, suggesting its breakdown."  ( this was contradicted above ).


 "..the plume could already be hundreds of miles from its previous location, and Hazen’s team could simply have missed it. “”The plume is not a stationary object,” .."   right, could be..


 " but “sometimes things can be degraded into more toxic components,” "..  right, oh shit.


and this part seems mighty speculative at it's core...

 The WHOI team didn’t look directly at bacteria in the water, but used oxygen depletion — caused by bugs multiplying and going into metabolic overdrive while eating — as a sign of their activity. By contrast, Hazen’s team extracted microbial DNA from plume water samples, sequenced the genes and identified their functions. ..."


right.  so the assumption is that an identified and sequenced genetic pattern is not only capable

of an ecologic function but IS evidence of this activity or function.  right?  smells like public

relations to me, not science, timely suggestion and hopeful speculation.  certainly findings

worthy of further study....and so on....

AssFire's picture

Oh no!, the first bite of crow...

Nature has a way of dealing with things of its own makings. We would like to think we can affect things like the weather, but we are doing nothing more than nature's cycles.


I am a Man I am Forty's picture

good balanced reporting GW

George Washington's picture

Wow - I was really hopeful when I first posted.

But I now smell a rat.  LBL's announcement praising the glories of Corexit, etc.:

thesapein's picture


And you helped the story along!


AssFire's picture

Better living through chemistry...All's well that ends well, nonetheless- thank you for your diligence GW.

papaswamp's picture

breaks it down to what? Oil doesn't just vanish into nothingness....what is the remainder? what is the converted oil (the poop people!). What is the result when the bacterium dies? Population explosion due to over abundance of food usually leads to a big imbalance..

cossack55's picture

Poop people! What do politicians have to do with this, other than lie, of course.

Payne's picture

good counter point blindman.  The article was a good read.

RichardP's picture

From blindman's link above:

It's also possible the oil plume is already gone: "We don't know what the fate of this plume now is—this was a forensic snapshot in late June, and we have not been back there since," Camilli cautioned.

Let's remember that the plumes have been described as crystal clear.  Giant greasy plumes indeed.

blindman's picture 


The Disappearing Gulf Oil Plumes Redux

"Remember the rosy scenario report by the Obama administration that 75 percent of the oil from the BP oil blowout had disappeared. Then a week ago came a somber report in Science declaring that the crude was still lurking Jaws-like below the surface in giant greasy plumes. This report provoked some policymakers and environmentalists to denounce the Obama administration for making stuff up about dire environmental situation in the Gulf of Mexico.

Now comes another research report in Science that says that previously unknown bacteria just love dining on the plumes with the result that the plumes are now completely undectectable. As Science News reports:



Before celebrating this triumph of Mother Nature over heedless humanity, Science News notes that a lot of scientists reject this finding as too good to be true. Whole article can be found here."

blindman's picture
Deep-sea oil plume goes missing Controversy arises over whether bacteria have completely gobbled it up By Janet Raloff Web edition : 2:07 pm


For instance, he says, “what Hazen was measuring was a component of the entire hydrocarbon matrix,” which is a complex mix of literally thousands of different molecules. Although the few molecules described in the new paper in Science may well have degraded within weeks, Kessler says, “there are others that have much longer half-lives — on the order of years, sometimes even decades.”

Moreover, he points out, many of the tools traditionally used to gauge biodegradation don’t work well in the field. A few teams have lately begun transitioning to use of more sensitive probes, he says.

And data from those more sensitive tools are fueling his skepticism of Hazen’s report that microbes have been erasing deep-sea plumes. As recently as August 22, Kessler says, “I spoke to some of those researchers out there [in the Gulf], and they told me they were still seeing plumes.”

George Washington's picture

Thanks, Blindman!  I added it to the post.

seventree's picture

I've read this novel, what happens next is the omnivorous petro-bacteria become airborne and devour all the lubricants in cars, generators, and guns. The world comes literally to a screeching halt. Great read, but just fiction of course.

Mercury's picture

...and then it eats half of New Jersey.'s picture

Let's just hope these new little creatures don't get too comfortable goggling up the goo under the sea, and decide to migrate.  Or worse, start eating up the newest fish incarnation born of co-rexit. 

truont's picture

Great--now let's have some independent verification.

No, no,'s not that we don't believe you....

okay, maybe it is...

Number 156's picture

Is there any chance that Environmentalist whack job scientists would let anyone know that something like this exists in the ocean, that the ocean can actually clean itself?

I knew these organisms exists, but I didn't know that there were numerous enough to make any difference.

This may also explain the fish-kill at the mouth of the Mississippi, as these if they are aerobic bacteria, and considering the voulume of the food source, will certainly deplete the oxygen levels.

Robslob's picture

What they didn't say is:

AND if you eat seafood that ate bacteria that ate oil then the bacteria ALSO eats your inards out...more to come about 1 year after they figure this out and all the Gulf Coasters are dead...

cossack55's picture

"Believe the lie, you are sure to die".

                          Joe Goebbles

Max Hunter's picture

Now all we need is a Bacteria to eat Bankers, Politicians, left wingers and Neo-cons.. :)  I'm sure I left something out..

cossack55's picture

Max, that is what the above is saying.  These microbes love carbon-based nutrients.  Your list contains carbon-based nutrients (with the exception of the vacuum between the ears). Voila! Nature rules.

blindman's picture

science to the rescue!  b.p. is driving the oil underwater

where these newly and conveniently discovered, and timely,

critters await.  i knew from the beginning that we would end up

praising this spill and all future spills as just more nutrients

for a nutrient starved ocean and planet.  the solution to pollution

is more pollution,  just like debt. 


kool aide anyone?  come on in, the water is fine. 

and cooking destroys all the lethal compounds found

in sick and dying marine life forms that we call seafood.

i love a rash of good news!  and rashes are actually quite

attractive and a good sign that your immune system is

hard at work so do enjoy them when the potential

opportunity presents. 


[note: searching for funding by b.p. to continue comments

along these lines.  anyone have any connections?]

thesapein's picture

Shouldn't that be "Nature to the rescue"?

If anyone can fix this problem, it's going to be the deep water microbes. They've got a lot more years of intelligence dealing with this sort of problem.

Oswald Spengler's picture

GW: Keep up your good work. 

peripatetic86's picture

GW:  Thanks for the info.  If this turns out to be the case it is great news for all of the fishermen and residents of the Gulf Coast.