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OEM Oil Eating Microbes

What is the best way to clean up oil spills after they occur? Nature has this down
to a science. Wherever there is a natural oil seepage on the earth, nature has placed oil
degrading microorganisms (microbes) into that environment. Nature is able to clean up
after itself, but it takes time. Its a slow, natural healing process natures own pollution
control. The problem is that mankind now puts far more hydrocarbon pollution into the
environment than nature can quickly remove.
Mechanism of how OEM works
Oil eating microbes will digest hydrocarbon molecules and break them down into
harmless byproducts of carbon, carbon dioxide and lipids (a natural, soluble fatty
material that is food for fish and plants). The more complex the hydrocarbon, the longer
this process may take (for example, kerosene and diesel will be consumed more quickly
than motor oil). This naturally occurring process is supercharged by adding these
specific microbes to any oil spill or contaminated area (see list of known applications in
the table below). It infuses as many as 5 billion microbes per gram into an oil spill,
greasy catch basin, oil/water separator, etc. and within hours these microbes have
reproduced from billions per gram to trillions. With water, oxygen and an organic food
source (such as oil) these microbes will form vast colonies and digest and remediate oil
on land and on water, as well as grease traps, septic tanks, storm drains and almost
any other area where contaminants are present.
After approximately ninety days or when the microbes have been deprived of
water, oxygen, or a food source, the microbe colony will begin to naturally die off.

Some of few known existing oil eating microbes are the following:


Much like A. borkumensis, T. oleivorans makes its living by turning the alkanes in oil
into microbial cells, CO2 and waterand can be found from the Black Sea to the Gulf of
Mexico, as can other members of the Thalassolituus genus. Unfortunately,
such similarly-minded bacterium don't cooperate; some experiments show that
adding T. oleivorans reduces the activity of A. borkumensis and other oil-eating
microbes as the tiny bacteria vie for oil-ingesting supremacy. Humans aren't the only
species waging chemical warfare in the Gulf.


Some members of this genus attack the carcinogenic constituents found in most oil
depositsthe aforementioned polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbonsand can be found
throughout the planet's oceans. Members of the genus play a role not only in cleaning
up oil spillsbut also the fatty acid residue of whale carcasses, like Neptunomonas
japonica pictured here. Other microbial genuses that contribute to such toxic tidying are
Pseudomonas and Vibrio, although they may not be as abundant as Neptunomonas or


Another alkane eater (like A. borkumensis), various Oleispira turn oil into more and
more Oleispira cells, along with carbon dioxide and water. One unintended side effect
can be local "dead zones," as the industrious microbial consortia, like the one pictured
here, consume much of the dissolved oxygen in the seawater as they feast on the oil.
Another extremophile species in this genus has been found in Antarctic waters
(Oleispira antarctica) as well as the subtropical waters into which the Macondo well has
been spilling.


This order of microbespart of the Proteobacteria phylum, named after the shapeshifting Greek god Proteusassume a number of forms and roles in eliminating an oil
spill. The most famous oil-eating member of the order is the aforementioned A.
borkumensis, but other members can play a role in eliminating petroleum as well.
Pictured here is the salt-loving Halomonas elongata, which grows best in extreme
environments but does not eat oil.


This clan of oil-eating microbes can be found from cold Arctic and Antarctic watersto the
balmy seas of the Gulf of Mexico. It also has the ability to thrive in a variety of habitats,
from marine sediments to Arctic sea icemaking it one of the more adaptable spill
fighters. Given that oil in sedimentsor cold watersis much harder to break down,
scientists are in hot pursuit of this wide-ranging extremophiles' spill-fighting traits.


Some of the most dangerous constituents of an oil spill are polycyclic aromatic
hydrocarbonsvolatile molecules that can be highly toxic. Fortunately, at least 23
strains of the bacterial genus Cycloclasticus native to the Gulf of Mexico can degrade
such nasty oil constituents by tapping them for energy. Even better, some members of
the rod-shaped group can eat other aromatic hydrocarbons that are even more toxic,
such as toluene. And they have tiny flagella to help them move from source to source,
cleaning up toxics as they go. As a result, scientists are busily decoding Cycloclasticus
pugettii, a strain found in the waters of the Puget Sound and being dredged for here, in
the hopes of improving its toxic avenger abilities.


A rod-shaped bacterium, A. borkumensis has played a role in oil spill cleanups from
Alaska (Exxon Valdez) to the Mediterranean waters near Spain (Prestige). Although it
persists in low numbers at all times, the bacterium blooms after an oil spilland has the
ability to both break down the alkanes that make up part of the oil as well as spread a
biodispersant that helps other microbes feast on other constituents of the spill. As a
result, scientists have been attempting to "soup up" this oil-eater via genetic
manipulation in order to make a spill-fighting supermicrobe. So far, they have not
improved on evolution's design.