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Cold Water Helped Microbes Clean Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

UCSB scientists identified microbes present in the Gulf of Mexico following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and have explained how cooler water temperature played a key role in the way bacteria were able to consume the hydrocarbon gases.

The uniqueness of this oil spill was that happened at such great depth and contained high levels of natural gas. Bacteria found in abundance in deep-water samples were related to psychrophilic, or cold-loving bacteria.

“Most bacteria grow more slowly at cooler temperatures...But psychrophilic bacteria actually grow faster at cold temperatures,” said Molly Redmond, a postdoctoral scholar working with David Valentine, a geochemist and professor of earth science at UCSB.

“The ability of oil-eating bacteria to also grow with natural gas as their foodstuff is important, because these bacteria may have grown to high numbers by eating the more-abundant gas, and then turned their attention to other components of the oil,” said Valentine.

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