At the deepest point of the oceans, the Mariana trench located in Western Pacific ocean and going under the surface of almost 11 000 metres (for comparison, the height of mount Everest is 8848 meters), scientists have discovered unique bacteria that feed on oil. The study, whose results were published in the journal Microbiome, was conducted by an international team of specialists, led by researchers from the University of East Anglia. Together with their colleagues from China and Russia, scientists conducted the most comprehensive analysis of microbial populations in the deepest part of the basin.
The research team went down to collect samples of microbial population in the deepest part of the Mariana trench – about 11 000 metres under water. Back in the lab, the researchers recreated the conditions of habitat of these bacteria and found that some of these groups of microorganisms able to degrade hydrocarbon.
“Hydrocarbons are organic compounds that consist only of hydrogen and carbon, and can be found in many items including crude oil and natural gas. Thus, these types of microorganisms essentially feed on compounds similar to those found in oil, and then use them as fuel. These organisms played a role in removing oil spills that occur when natural disasters such as the BP oil spill in 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico”, says one of the authors of a new study Jonathan Todd from the School of biological Sciences University of East Anglia.
Discovered bacteria decompose hydrocarbons
Scientists report that the proportion of bacteria degrading hydrocarbons in the basin is the highest on Earth. But how do bacteria get hydrocarbons? To uncover this mystery, the scientists took water samples from depths of 2,000, 4,000 and 6,000 meters. It was found that hydrocarbons are present in all the samples taken of the water.
“We have discovered that hydrocarbons exist at a depth of 6000 meters below the ocean surface and perhaps even deeper. Their considerable part is probably due to the pollution of the ocean surface,” explains Nicholas Pedenchuk from the School of environmental Sciences University of East Anglia.
“To our surprise, we also identified a biologically produced hydrocarbons in the oceanic sediments on the bottom of the trench. This suggests that a unique microbial population produces hydrocarbons in the environment” — added the researcher.
According to scientists, these hydrocarbons are similar to compounds that comprise diesel fuel. They were discovered in algae on the ocean surface, but is never found in the germs in the vast depths.
According to the researchers, the hydrocarbons help the microbes survive tremendous pressure to 1091 kg/cm2, which is at the bottom of the Martian troughs.
“In addition, they can also act as a food source for other microbes that may be able to consume any of polluting hydrocarbons entering the bottom of the ocean. But more research is needed to fully understand this unique environment,” adds David Lee Smith, another author of the study from the School of biological Sciences University of East Anglia.
The researchers plan to further explore microbial life at the bottom of the Mariana trench, and will try to figure out the volumes of hydrocarbons that fall in the environment due to human activities.
“Until we know more about Mars than about the deepest parts of the oceans,” concluded Professor Xiao-Hua Zhang from the Ocean University in China.
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