Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Microbial Communities Changed After Deepwater Horizon Spill

11.06.2012
Communities of microbial organisms -- species such as nematodes, protists and fungi -- on beaches along the Gulf of Mexico changed significantly following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in April 2010, research from the University of New Hampshire’s Hubbard Center for Genome Studies (HCGS) and partners found.

The findings, which analyzed marine sediments from five Gulf Coast sites prior to and several months following shoreline oiling, are published in the June 6, 2012, issue of the journal PLoS ONE.

The researchers sampled sites around Dauphin Island, Ala., and Grand Isle, La., just after the Deepwater Horizon spill began but before oil reached the shore, then again several months later, in September 2010.

“In that short time period, we saw a drastic change in the microbial community,” says lead author Holly Bik, a postdoctoral researcher at UNH’s HCGS when the research was conducted, now at the Genome Center at the University of California, Davis. “We were shocked at how drastic the change was, pre- and post-spill.”

Bik and senior author W. Kelley Thomas, director of the HCGS, as well as collaborators from Auburn University and the University of Texas, San Antonio, found that the communities of microbial eukaryotes (organisms not visible to the naked eye whose cells contain nuclei) in the sediments shifted dramatically from highly diverse communities dominated by nematodes – “what you would expect on a beach,” says Bik -- to an almost exclusively fungal community.

What’s more, those post-spill fungi seem to have an appetite for oil. “The fungal taxa that were there were previously associated with hydrocarbons,” Bik says, noting that the group of fungi sampled post-spill from the Grand Isle sites are suspected to utilize hydrocarbons and thrive in hostile, polluted conditions that appear to be intolerable for other marine fungi.

The researchers used two parallel methodologies – high-throughput gene sequencing to sort the organisms into “piles” by their DNA, and an under-the-microscope taxonomic approach -- to evaluate the communities pre- and post-spill. In the taxonomic data examining nematodes, researchers found that the post-spill samples were dominated by more predatory and scavenger nematodes as well as juveniles, suggesting.

While nematodes and fungi are hardly charismatic and are unlikely to turn up on the dinner table, these little-understood yet abundant organisms are nonetheless important. “They underpin the entire ecosystem,” Bik says. “If you knock out the base of the food pyramid, you’re not going to have food higher up in the food chain.” Further, they are also important for nutrient cycling and sediment stability.

The researchers’ findings also point to the possibility of lingering but hidden effects of the spill, which is the largest accidental marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry.

“If you turned up at the beach in September and looked around, you would have had no idea there was an oil spill,” Bik says. “Yet our data suggest considerable hidden initial impacts across shallow Gulf sediments that may be ongoing.” Ongoing research and sampling will aim to determine whether fungi are thriving and persisting long-term and whether the shift in communities is an ephemeral, seasonal or a more permanent phenomenon.

The use of high-throughput sequencing approaches to characterize changes in microscopic eukaryote communities is a cutting-edge technique for tracking environmental disturbance. “The development of these genomic tools provides a detailed understanding of the biological consequences of such environmental disasters and is the first step toward mindful approaches for mitigation and remediation of this oil spill and those we will face in the future,” says Thomas, who is the Hubbard Professor of Genomics at UNH.

The paper, “Dramatic shifts in benthic microbial eukaryote communities following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill,” is available to download from PLoS ONE here: http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0038550. In addition to Bik and Thomas, co-authors were Kenneth Halanych from Auburn University and Jyotsna Sharma of University of Texas, San Antonio.

This research, which is ongoing, was funded through the National Science Foundation’s RAPID program for quick-response research on natural human-caused disasters and similar unanticipated events. More information about the grant is available here: http://www.unh.edu/news/cj_nr/2010/sep/bp14oil.cfm

The University of New Hampshire, founded in 1866, is a world-class public research university with the feel of a New England liberal arts college. A land, sea, and space-grant university, UNH is the state's flagship public institution, enrolling 12,200 undergraduate and 2,300 graduate students.

Photographs available to download:

http://unh.edu/news/releases/2012/jun/img/bellair_blvd.JPG
Caption: Belleair Boulevard on Dauphin Island, Ala., in September 2010.
Credit: Holly Bik
http://unh.edu/news/releases/2012/jun/img/nematodes_in_tube.JPG
Caption: Nematodes sampled from Gulf of Mexico beaches several months after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010.

Credit: Holly Bik

Beth Potier | Newswise Science News
Further information:
http://www.unh.edu

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Dune ecosystem modelling
23.06.2017 | Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau

nachricht Understanding animal social networks can aid wildlife conservation
23.06.2017 | Leibniz-Institut für Gewässerökologie und Binnenfischerei (IGB)

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Can we see monkeys from space? Emerging technologies to map biodiversity

An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...

Im Focus: Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology

Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.

Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...

Im Focus: How protons move through a fuel cell

Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.

As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...

Im Focus: A unique data centre for cosmological simulations

Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.

With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...

Im Focus: Scientists develop molecular thermometer for contactless measurement using infrared light

Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine

Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Plants are networkers

19.06.2017 | Event News

Digital Survival Training for Executives

13.06.2017 | Event News

Global Learning Council Summit 2017

13.06.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Quantum thermometer or optical refrigerator?

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

A 100-year-old physics problem has been solved at EPFL

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Equipping form with function

23.06.2017 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>