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 Plant seeds survive machine washing - Dispersal of invasive plants with clothes
11.09.2018 | Gesellschaft für Ökologie e.V.

nachricht Air pollution leads to cardiovascular diseases
21.08.2018 | Universitätsmedizin der Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz

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: Storage & Transport of highly volatile Gases made safer & cheaper by the use of “Kinetic Trapping"

Augsburg chemists present a new technology for compressing, storing and transporting highly volatile gases in porous frameworks/New prospects for gas-powered vehicles

Storage of highly volatile gases has always been a major technological challenge, not least for use in the automotive sector, for, for example, methane or...

Im Focus: Disrupting crystalline order to restore superfluidity

When we put water in a freezer, water molecules crystallize and form ice. This change from one phase of matter to another is called a phase transition. While this transition, and countless others that occur in nature, typically takes place at the same fixed conditions, such as the freezing point, one can ask how it can be influenced in a controlled way.

We are all familiar with such control of the freezing transition, as it is an essential ingredient in the art of making a sorbet or a slushy. To make a cold...

Im Focus: Micro energy harvesters for the Internet of Things

Fraunhofer IWS Dresden scientists print electronic layers with polymer ink

Thin organic layers provide machines and equipment with new functions. They enable, for example, tiny energy recuperators. In future, these will be installed...

Im Focus: Dynamik einzelner Proteine

Neue Messmethode erlaubt es Forschenden, die Bewegung von Molekülen lange und genau zu verfolgen

Das Zusammenspiel aus Struktur und Dynamik bestimmt die Funktion von Proteinen, den molekularen Werkzeugen der Zelle. Durch Fortschritte in der...

Im Focus: Dynamics of individual proteins

New measurement method allows researchers to precisely follow the movement of individual molecules over long periods of time

The function of proteins – the molecular tools of the cell – is governed by the interplay of their structure and dynamics. Advances in electron microscopy have...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

5th International Conference on Cellular Materials (CellMAT), Scientific Programme online

02.10.2018 | Event News

Major Project: The New Silk Road

01.10.2018 | Event News

"Boston calling": TU Berlin and the Weizenbaum Institute organize a conference in USA

21.09.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Physics: Not everything is where it seems to be

15.10.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Microfluidic molecular exchanger helps control therapeutic cell manufacturing

15.10.2018 | Life Sciences

Link between Gut Flora and Multiple Sclerosis Discovered

15.10.2018 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>