Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

Deepwater Horizon oil spill. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 is one of the most studied spills in history, yet scientists haven’t agreed on the role of microbes in eating up the oil. Now a research team at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) has identified all of the principal oil-degrading bacteria as well as their mechanisms for chewing up the many different components that make up the released crude oil.

Gary Andersen

Gary Andersen (Photo credit: Berkeley Lab)

The team, led by Gary Andersen—a microbial ecologist and senior scientist at Berkeley Lab’s Earth & Environmental Sciences Area—is the first to simulate the conditions that occurred in the aftermath of the spill. Their study, “Simulation of Deepwater Horizon oil plume reveals substrate specialization within a complex community of hydrocarbon-degraders,” was just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“This provides the most complete account yet of what was happening in the hydrocarbon plumes in the deep ocean during the event,” said Andersen. Berkeley Lab’s Ping Hu, the lead author of the study, added: “We simulated the conditions of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in the lab and were able to understand the mechanisms for oil degradation from all of the principal oil-degrading bacteria that were observed in the original oil spill.”

Read the full press release at the Berkeley Lab News Center here.