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Environmental research

Bacteria make a meal of oil at ANTARES deep-sea station

Even if oil transportation safety has been greatly improved over the last decades, significantly lowering accidental oil spills, hundreds of millions of liters of petroleum still enter the environment from both natural and anthropogenic sources every year. Furthermore, as the more accessible oil reservoirs are being emptied, marine and particularly deep-sea reservoirs are becoming the "new Eldorado for black gold", generating new threats to marine ecosystems as shown by the recent and dramatic BP Deepwater Horizon Gulf of Mexico oil spill. After the sinking of the tanker "Prestige" (which sank at a depth of 2400m-depth) or the explosion of the "Deepwater Horizon" offshore oil drilling rig (at 1260m-depth), many questions remain about the fate and environmental impact of the spilled oil in deep-sea environments.

In the framework of the French national program ANR POTES (Pressure effects On marine prokaryotes), the in situ biodegradability of heavy fuel oil (Prestige oil) and its impact on the biodiversity of sedimentary microbial and macraufaunal communities were determined at the ANTARES site at 2400m-depth.

Description : plateauxHCB-HP

Sediment was distributed into PVC cores with or without a massive addition of Prestige fuel oil (~9 g kgô1 dry wt) and integrated in experimental devices. This experimental device was deployed using the ROV Victor  at 2400 m water depth using the manned submarine Nautile (Ifremer).

Bientot, une traduction franôaise de ce texte.

Sediments from the water/sediment interface at a 2400 m depth were sampled with a multicorer at the ANTARES site off the French Mediterranean coast and were promptly enriched with Maya crude oil as the sole source of carbon and energy. Alkane-degrading bacteria belonging to the genera Alcanivorax, Pseudomonas, Marinobacter, Rhodococcus and Clavibacter-like were isolated, indicating that the same groups were potentially involved in hydrocarbon biodegradation in deep sea as in coastal waters. The results also confirm that members of Alcanivorax are important obligate alkane degraders in deep sea environments, and coexist with other degrading bacteria inhabiting the deep subsurface sediment of the Mediterranean (Tapilatu et al., 2010). The fact that bacteria make a meal of oil at ANTARES deep-sea station was further confirmed by the observed typical microbial alteration of n-alkanes of the Prestige fuel oil during the experiment. Interestingly, long term macrobenthic recolonisation and sediment reworking activity do not seem to have been affected by the contamination (Cuny et al., in prep.).

Contact person: P. Cuny (philippe.cuny@univmed.fr)

References cited.

  • Tapilatu Y, Aquaviva M, Guigue C, Miralles G, Bertrand J-C, Cuny P (2010) Isolation of alkane-degrading bacteria from deep-sea Mediterranean sediments. Letters in Applied Microbiology 50:234-236

  • Cuny P, Gilbert F, Militon C, Acquaviva M, Tamburini C, Stora G, Grossi V (in prep.) Effects of Prestige fuel oil on macro- and micro-benthic communities of deep-sea Mediterranean sediments near the ANTARES underwater neutrino telescope.

 

Author : Thierry Stolarczyk