Researchers find oil-eating bacteria in Mariana Trench

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Deepsea Challenger Pilot Sphere Interior
The interior view of the Deep Sea Challenger which was used to explore the deepest point on Earth, Challenger Deep(Credits - Wikimedia Commons)

A group of researchers from the University of East Anglia has found out a very unique bacteria which feeds on oil. They have observed this microorganism in the deepest portion of the oceans of Earth which is the Mariana Trench. Researchers from various parts of the world such as Russia and China also participated and they have made a very comprehensive analysis of the population of microbes on the ocean’s trench.

The Mariana Trench is situated in the western part of the Pacific Ocean and it is also the deepest natural trench on Earth. It appears as a crescent shaped moon on the Earth’s crust and the greatest depth is 10,994 metres which is also known as the Challenger Deep. On the other hand the height of Mount Everest is 8,848 metres.

Scientists believe that they know more about the conditions on Mars than the Mariana Trench. A reason is that till date very few expeditions have made a journey to the trench for studying the ecosystem and the inhabitant organisms. Perhaps the most famous of the expeditions is the one organised by famous marine explorer and Oscar winning film director James Cameron. He ordered a highly specialised submersible for collecting sample organisms from the trench.

Dr. Jonathan Todd who is in UEA’s School of Biological Sciences said that the research team collected various samples of the microbes at the deepest location in the Mariana Trench. After the analysis of the sample was done, the team identified a unique group of hydrocarbon degrading bacteria.

Hydrocarbons are basically organic compounds which are only composed of hydrogen and carbon atoms, as evident from the name. They are found in a wide variety of compounds all over the planet such as oil fields, manufacturing areas.

The microorganisms which were found mainly fed on the compounds which are similar to that of oil and then it was used for fuel. These similar microorganisms also played a role in decomposing the oil spills which occurred in the natural disasters such as the 2010 Oil Spill in Mexico Gulf. The bacteria has been found in a lot of abundance in the Mariana Trench or in other words, the proportion of hydrocarbon feeding bacteria on Earth is highest in the Mariana Trench.

A sample of the microbes was isolated for experimental purposes and it was found that if the similar conditions were simulated in the laboratories then they consumed the hydrocarbons even here. So, hydrocarbons are found even 6000 metres below the ocean surface level and even in the deepest places on Earth such as Mariana Trench. Hence this suggests that microbes are producing them even in such distinctive environments.

The results of the study have been published in the Microbiome journal.

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