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Unique oil-eating bacteria found in Pacific Ocean trench

Scientists have discovered a unique oil-eating microbe in the deepest part of the oceans.

The bacteria were found in the Western Pacific’s Mariana Trench by researchers from England, China and Russia.

Their home is about 11,000 metres deep.

Dr Jonathan Todd, from the University of East Anglia, said the creatures – which were found in vast abundance – are akin to bacteria that help clear away oil spills.

“We studied the samples that were brought back and identified a new group of hydrocarbon degrading bacteria,” he said.

<who> Photo credit: 123RF

“Hydrocarbons are organic compounds that are made of only hydrogen and carbon atoms, and they are found in many places, including crude oil and natural gas.

“So these types of microorganisms essentially eat compounds similar to those in oil and then use it for fuel. Similar microorganisms play a role in degrading oil spills in natural disasters such as BP’s 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.”

The scientists later brought some of the bacteria back to their labs and demonstrated that they consume hydrocarbons.

They also found that another population of microbes is producing hydrocarbons that is then consumed by the oil-eaters.

Dr David Lea-Smith, from UEA’s School of Biological Sciences, said: "These hydrocarbons may help microbes survive the crushing pressure at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, which is equal to 1,091 kilograms pressed against a fingernail.

"They may also be acting as a food source for other microbes, which may also consume any pollutant hydrocarbons that happen to sink to the ocean floor. But more research is needed to fully understand this unique environment.”



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