How are we going to mop up the excess greenhouses and oil spills that plague our environment? A recent deep-sea discovery by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin might help.
UT scientists say they’ve identified two dozen new microbes in the Gulf of California, around 6,562 feet below the surface of the water – and at least some of them use hydrocarbons such as methane and butane as energy sources, “meaning the newly identified bacteria might be helping to limit the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and might one day be useful for cleaning up oil spills,” according to the university.
“This shows the deep oceans contain expansive unexplored biodiversity, and microscopic organisms there are capable of degrading oil and other harmful chemicals,” Brett Baker, the paper’s primary investigator, told UT News. “Beneath the ocean floor huge reservoirs of hydrocarbon gases—including methane, propane, butane and others—exist now, and these microbes prevent greenhouse gases from being released into the atmosphere.”
We’re still a ways away from putting any of these species on cleanup duties, but the team is understandably excited about its findings so far. “We think that this is probably just the tip of the iceberg in terms of diversity in the Guaymas Basin,” Baker said. “So, we’re doing a lot more DNA sequencing to try to get a handle on how much more there is. This paper is really just our first hint at what these things are and what they are doing.”
You can read more about the team’s research in Nature Communications.