The next time there's an oil spill, we may be able to use special oil-eating bacteria to clean up. Chinese scientists have found a strain of bacteria that munches on hydrocarbons.
Hong-Qi Wang and Yan-Jun Chen of the Beijing Normal University and Bo-Ya Qin from the Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection isolated Bacillus cereus DQ01 from soil at the Daqing oil field, where they noticed it digesting n-hexadecane. Unlike previous efforts by scientists to engineer bacteria to perform this function in cases of oil spills or contaminated sites, this bacterium has evolved on its own.
The bacteria operates best at about 86 degrees Farenheit and at a neutral pH level, which means it doesn't need much in the way of special care or conditions to spread around any site. While the scientists in the research hope it can be used for good, it would also work to biodegrade the oil fields (or oil reserves) of a site, if handled improperly.
The microbial hydrocarbon diet [EurekAlert]
[Image via Invitrogen]