Bacteria, BP & Big Bucks

Courtesy of Science/AAAS

Well, Cloclo’s Kali Yug will have to wait until tomorrow, despite your baited breath, gentle readers, but the following seems important enough to disrupt the summer Beach Reading tales. Nicole — who is off to New Orleans to take part in fund-raising art & poetry activities meant to help alleviate ever so slightly the plight of the Gulf (click here for details) — sent me a piece of journalism on the fabulous new oil-eating bacteria discovered just in time to make us all relax given its implied suggestion that nature will take care way better and quicker than we ever could, and at no price to BP, of the disaster the latter gang of hoodlums brought down upon us and the waters of the Gulf. Here is the core of the article:

Newly discovered oil-eating microbe ‘flourishing’ in Gulf

By The Associated Press
Tuesday, August 24th, 2010 — 2:45 pm

Researchers say previously unknown microbe thriving by eating spilled oil in Gulf of Mexico A newly discovered type of oil-eating microbe is suddenly flourishing in the Gulf of Mexico. Scientists discovered the new microbe while studying the underwater dispersion of millions of gallons of oil spilled into the Gulf following the explosion of BP’s Deepwater Horizon drilling rig. And the microbe works without significantly depleting oxygen in the water, researchers led by Terry Hazen at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif., reported Tuesday in the online journal Sciencexpress. “Our findings, which provide the first data ever on microbial activity from a deepwater dispersed oil plume, suggest” a great potential for bacteria to help dispose of oil plumes in the deep-sea, Hazen said in a statement. Environmentalists have raised concerns about the giant oil spill and the underwater plume of dispersed oil, particularly its potential effects on sea life. A report just last week described a 22-mile long underwater mist of tiny oil droplets.

“Our findings show that the influx of oil profoundly altered the microbial community by significantly stimulating deep-sea” cold temperature bacteria that are closely related to known petroleum-degrading microbes, Hazen reported.

Their findings are based on more than 200 samples collected from 17 deepwater sites between May 25 and June 2. They found that the dominant microbe in the oil plume is a new species, closely related to members of Oceanospirillales.

This microbe thrives in cold water, with temperatures in the deep recorded at 5 degrees Celsius (41 Fahrenheit).

Hazen suggested that the bacteria may have adapted over time due to periodic leaks and natural seeps of oil in the Gulf.

Scientists also had been concerned that oil-eating activity by microbes would consume large amounts of oxygen in the water, creating a “dead zone” dangerous to other life. But the new study found that oxygen saturation outside the oil plume was 67-percent while within the plume it was 59-percent.

Which sounds excellent, doesn’t it? Maybe too good to be true? Well, let’ see who paid for this research — which may make at least those among us who have little faith in so-called scientific “objectivity” think twice about the god-sent bacteria:

The research was supported by an existing grant with the Energy Biosciences Institute, a partnership led by the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Illinois that is funded by a $500 million, 10-year grant from BP. Other support came from the U.S. Department of Energy and the University of Oklahoma Research Foundation.

So maybe it’s true, there is a sudden explosion of oil-eating bacteria. But what was that New Jersey second hand car dealer radio ad for yesteryear: “Money talks, nobody walks?” Or something like that. At this point I certainly wouldn’t trust research concerning the oil spill in the gulf done with BP money unless checked & counter-checked by independent (of big oil and the government, if that is possible) set-ups. For when the bacteria that eats the nasty remains of the dispersents? Or maybe I have been made paranoid (though I’ve always trusted Bill Burroughs’ saying that “a paranoid is a man who knows the facts”) by recent readings — oh, come to think of it, do go and check out the chilling piece of investigative journalism in this week’s issue of The New Yorker (hey, they’re not bad as long it doesn’t concern poetry) by Jane Mayer called Covert Operations and detailing the brothers Koch’s use of their millions for  cooking up or backing  secretive extreme right wing causes.

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