Controversy arises over whether bacteria have completely gobbled it up
In May, researchers began reporting that the massive jets of crude emanating from BP’s damaged Deepwater Horizon well were creating deep, diffuse plumes of oil in the Gulf of Mexico. Since then, chemical oceanographers have been probing the plumes for indirect clues about how quickly native bacteria might be gobbling up the oil.
Microbial ecologist Terry Hazen of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California now thinks he has a surprising answer: very quickly.
He’s part of a broad team of scientists from two Department of Energy national labs and two universities that has been collecting plume samples continually for months. In a paper posted online August 24 in Science, the team reports data from late May to early June showing that those deep-sea plumes enticed a hitherto unknown cold-water–adapted bacterium to rapidly chow down on the oil.
Indeed, Hazen says, those bugs have been so voracious that for one plume of