San Francisco Chronicle Science Editor David Perlman reports that 'Berkeley scientists have discovered a voracious species of primitive oil-eating bacteria that have largely consumed the huge deep-sea plume of dispersed oil fouling the Gulf of Mexico since the deadly BP Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion in April.
As a result of the bacteria, the toxic plume that was once 22 miles long and more than 3,600 feet deep is now "undetectable," Terry C. Hazen, the chief microbiologist at the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, reported Tuesday.
For millions of years, bacteria have been eating oil that seeps from the sea floor, but Hazen and his colleagues discovered a particularly gluttonous form that multiplied rapidly in the months after the April 20 oil-rig explosion and spearheaded the plume's unexpected disappearance from the gulf's cold waters, Hazen said.
"We're still finding bacteria but no oil," Hazen said. "The plume is undetectable."
Because of their unique ability to consume oil swiftly, the bacteria should make a valuable tool against future oil spills that pose a threat to the environment, once they are firmly identified and cultured for what Hazen calls "bioremediation."'