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An international team of researchers has found extremely small habitats that increase the potential for life on other planets while offering a way to clean up oil spills on our own.
Looking at samples from the world's largest natural asphalt lake, they found active microbes in droplets as small as a microliter, which is about 1/50th of a drop of water.
"We saw a huge diversity of bacteria and archaea," said Dirk Schulze-Makuch, a professor in Washington State University's School of the Environment and the only U.S. researcher on the team. "That's why we speak of an 'ecosystem,' because we have so much diversity in the water droplets."
Writing in the journal Science, the researchers report they also found the microbes were actively degrading oil in the asphalt, suggesting a similar phenomenon could be used to clean up oil spills.
"For me, the cool thing is I got into it from an astrobiology viewpoint, as an analog to Saturn's moon, Titan, where we have hydrocarbon lakes on the surface," said Schulze-Makuch. "But this shows astrobiology has also great environmental applications, because of the biodegradation of oil compounds."
Schulze-Makuch and his colleagues in 2011 found that the 100-acre Pitch Lake, on the Caribbean island of Trinidad, was teeming with microbial life, which is also thought to increase the likelihood of life on Titan.
originally posted by: Grimpachi
a reply to: knoledgeispower
I believe they have known about microbes that can break down oil for a while now. I am not sure why they don't use them on oil spills now but it may be because of a concern with cross contamination or the possibility of creating an even worse disaster by releasing microbes outside of their known habitat.
I know many years ago I read something where it hypothesized that such microbes could be used to destroy oil reserves destabilizing governments. I can't remember if that was a fictional piece I read or an actual paper but fiction is often not to far off from fact.