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Gulf of Mexico has greater-than-believed ability to self-cleanse oil spills

The Gulf of Mexico may have a much greater natural ability to self-clean oil spills than previously believed, an expert in bioremediation said here today at the 245th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS), the world’s largest scientific society.

Terry C. Hazen, Ph.D., said that conclusion has emerged from research following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, which by some estimates spilled 4.9 million barrels (210 million gallons) of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. His research team used a powerful new approach for identifying microbes in the environment to discover previously unknown bacteria, naturally present in the Gulf water, that consume and break down crude oil.

“The Deepwater Horizon oil provided a new source of nutrients in the deepest waters,” explained Hazen, who is with the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. “With more food present in the water, there was a population explosion among those bacteria already adapted to using oil as a food source.

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