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Unique oil-eating bacteria found in world's deepest ocean trench

Press Trust of India  |  London 

Scientists have discovered a unique eating in the Trench, the deepest part of the Earth's oceans, a finding that may pave way for sustainable ways to clean up oils spills.

The Trench is located in the Western Pacific and reaches a depth of approximately 11,000 metres. By comparison, is 8,848 metres high.

"We know more about Mars than the deepest part of the ocean," said of the University in China, who led the study.

To date, only a few expeditions have investigated the organisms inhabiting this ecosystem.

One of these expeditions was organised and led by noted marine James Cameron, who built a specialised submersible to collect samples in the trench.

"Our research team went down to collect samples of the microbial population at the deepest part of the Trench -- some 11,000 metres down. We studied the samples that were brought back and identified a new group of hydrocarbon degrading bacteria," said Jonathan Todd, from the in the UK.

"Hydrocarbons are organic compounds that are made of only hydrogen and carbon atoms, and they are found in many places, including and natural gas," Todd said in a statement.

"So these types of microorganisms essentially eat compounds similar to those in and then use it for fuel. Similar microorganisms play a role in degrading in natural disasters such as BP's 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico," he said.

"We also found that this is really abundant at the bottom of the Mariana Trench," he added.

In fact, the team found that the proportion of hydrocarbon degrading in the Trench is the highest on

The scientists isolated some of these microbes and demonstrated that they consume hydrocarbons in the laboratory under environmental conditions that simulate those in the

In order to understand the source of the hydrocarbons 'feeding' this bacteria, the team analysed samples of sea water taken at the surface, and all the way down a column of water to the sediment at the bottom of the trench.

"We found that hydrocarbons exist as deep as 6,000 metres below the surface of the and probably even deeper. A significant proportion of them probably derived from ocean surface pollution," Nikolai Pedentchouk, from

"To our surprise, we also identified biologically produced hydrocarbons in the ocean sediment at the bottom of the trench. This suggests that a unique microbial population is producing hydrocarbons in this environment," he added.

"These hydrocarbons, similar to the compounds that constitute diesel fuel, have been found in algae at the ocean surface but never in microbes at these depths," Pedentchouk said.

The hydrocarbons may help microbes survive the crushing pressure at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, which is equal to 1,091 kilogrammes pressed against a fingernail, researchers said.

"They may also be acting as a for other microbes, which may also consume any pollutant hydrocarbons that happen to sink to the ocean floor. But more research is needed to fully understand this unique environment," said David Lea-Smith, from

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Sun, April 14 2019. 11:15 IST
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