News / Science & Technology

Microbes Could Help Clean Up Oil Spills

FILE - In this June 26, 2010 file photo, oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill  is seen floating on the surface of the water in Bay Jimmy in Plaquemines Parish, La.
FILE - In this June 26, 2010 file photo, oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill is seen floating on the surface of the water in Bay Jimmy in Plaquemines Parish, La.
Rosanne Skirble
New research finds that a tiny microbe may play a big role in cleaning up oil spills and natural gas leaks.
 
The 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig accident in the Gulf of Mexico was the largest marine disaster in U.S. history, killing 11 people and spewing nearly five million barrels of oil into the water. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, some 14,000 spills are reported each year in the United States where oil and gas flow through a network of pipelines and are carried by barge, rail, and truck.
 
Microbe feeds on natural gas
Scientists have identified some 100 microbes that feed on methane, a byproduct of natural gas. Methane is also a potent climate-changing gas that warms the atmosphere. Writing in the journal Nature, environmental microbiologist Colin Murrell and colleagues at the University of East Anglia in England take a closer look at the genetic makeup of a single bacteria strain called Methylocella silvestris
 
The microbe is found in peat, tundra and forest soils in northern Europe. It was also detected in the Deepwater Horizon spill. Murrell says lab-based experiments found that it has a healthy appetite for components in natural gas. 
 
“We tested for growth on propane and sure enough it grows very happily on propane as well as methane,” Murrell said. “This is the uniqueness of the work that we’ve got one organism that seems to be able to acquire the ability to grow on these different gases together.” 
 
Study looks for what triggers appetite
But growth in a controlled laboratory experiment is far different from what happens in the natural environment, which is why researchers want to understand how the microbes work and what enzymes and what genes are being used by that bacterium to grow on either methane or propone.
 
"Then we can start to build up a picture of whether they are going to be useful in a sort of commercial context in terms of cleanup of oil spills or cleanup of a whole variety of different compounds,” Murrell said.
 
Murrell wants to identify other microbes in the environment that work in similar ways and says high-tech tools are available to do the job.
 
“We have specific gene and molecular probes that we can now use to go back and interrogate environmental samples to see if these organisms are present there in the first place,” he said.
 
Science helps decision-makers clean air
Murrell said the findings can help inform decision-makers on the potential advantage microbes offer for remediation.  “In terms of cleanup of the environment or in context of different organisms making useful chemicals in a biologically clean way rather than using a lot of hazardous chemicals.”
 
Molecule for molecule, Murrell says, the effect of methane on global warming is more than 20 times greater than carbon dioxide over a span of 100 years.  He added, 'It is important, to understand how it can be removed naturally in the environment before it is released into the atmosphere.

You May Like

Ebola Death Toll Nears 5,000 as Virus Advances

West Africa bears heaviest burden; Mali toddler’s death raises new fears More

Jordan’s Role in Fighting IS Carries Domestic Risks

There are Western concerns Islamic State militants soon may unleash offensive in kingdom that could create upheaval - though nation has solid intel, grip on banking system More

Asian-Americans Enter Public Office in Record Numbers

A steady deepening engagement in local politics pays off for politicians like Chinese-American Judy Chu More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rulesi
X
October 21, 2014 12:20 AM
European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Young Nairobi Tech Innovator on 'Track' in Security Business

A 24-year-old technology innovator in Nairobi has invented a tracking device that monitors and secures cars. He has also come up with what he claims is the most robust audio-visual surveillance system yet. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from the Kenyan capital, his innovations are offering alternative security solutions.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video North Carolina Emerges as Key Election Battleground

U.S. congressional midterm elections will be held on November 4th and most political analysts give Republicans an excellent chance to win a majority in the U.S. Senate, which Democrats now control. So what are the issues driving voters in this congressional election year? VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone traveled to North Carolina, one of the most politically competitive states in the country, to find out.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

All About America

AppleAndroid