Early release of a Science paper on oil-eating bacteria produced lots of stories today, and the ball bounced one more time between nature-damaged and nature-cleans-itself tales.
This came just a few days after a quick study of the plume in the Gulf made it seem as if bacteria were not moving rapidly to eat the oil.
Today's story reports on sampling of the plume that turned up an unknown microbe from the cold depths that had been stirred up by the accident. This one, unlike others, eats oil without significantly depleting oxygen. The Associated Press version by Randolph Schmid said the research team was led by Terry Hazen of Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, and Hazen said, "Our findings, which provide the first data ever on microbial activity from a deepwater oil plume" suggest a great potential for bacteria to help dispose of plumes in deep water.
The bacteria were found in a plume of microscopic oil droplets more than 3,000 feet below the surface. With this find, scientists may have to rethink measuring oxygen depletion as a way to check on bacteria eating the oil. In other spills, blooms of bacteria caused by the presence of oil quickly depleted oxygen in the water.