The results of their research are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study was led by David Valentine, a geochemist and professor of earth science at UCSB, and Molly Redmond, a postdoctoral scholar in Valentine's laboratory. The research was supported by the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy.
"It's much warmer at the surface than in the deep water –– around 80 degrees (Fahrenheit) versus 40 degrees, which is pretty close to the temperature in your refrigerator," said Redmond, the study's lead author. "There was very little natural gas in the surface samples, suggesting that both temperature and natural gas could be important in determining which bacteria bloomed after the spill. The bacteria we saw in the deep-water samples in May and June were related to types of psychrophilic, or cold-loving bacteria. Most bacteria grow more slowly at cooler temperatures –– that's why we keep our food in the refrigerator. But psychrophilic bacteria actually grow faster at cold temperatures than they would at room temperature."
This suggests that the Colwellia were abundant because they grow well at low temperatures and because they could consume ethane and propane, which were very abundant during the spill, the researchers said. The bacteria that consumed methane were a group of bacteria called Methylococcaceae –– the same bacteria that were abundant in September after the methane had been consumed, suggesting that they were, in fact, important in consuming methane.
"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. "With this work, we have revealed some of the relationships between hydrocarbons released from Deepwater Horizon and the bacteria that responded. But numerous questions remain as to how the bacteria interacted with one another, and how this ecology impacted the fate of the released oil."
George Foulsham | EurekAlert!
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