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Newly Discovered Bacteria Could Aid Oil Cleanup 167

Posted by Soulskill
from the quick-somebody-come-up-with-a-stupid-name dept.
suraj.sun passes along news from Oregon State University, where researchers have discovered a new strain of bacteria that may be able to aid cleanup efforts in the Gulf of Mexico. The bacteria "can produce non-toxic, comparatively inexpensive 'rhamnolipids,' and effectively help degrade polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs — environmental pollutants that are one of the most harmful aspects of oil spills. Because of its unique characteristics, this new bacterial strain could be of considerable value in the long-term cleanup of the massive Gulf Coast oil spill, scientists say." In related news, Kevin Costner's centrifugal separator technology has gotten approval for deployment; now it is only waiting on funding from BP.
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Newly Discovered Bacteria Could Aid Oil Cleanup

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  • New tech? (Score:1, Informative)

    by lorthia (1247226)
    The bacteria idea sounds great, but will probably result in a new and deadly plague that will give rise to oil gobbling mutants! As for the other idea, I don't see how Kevin Costner can claim to have developed an oil separator that has been in use by US Navy ships since before the early eighties. We had them on my ship when I was in back in 1983. They were used to separate water and dirt from lube oil.
    • Re:New tech? (Score:5, Informative)

      by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Sunday June 13, 2010 @08:38AM (#32556480) Homepage Journal

      As for the other idea, I don't see how Kevin Costner can claim to have developed an oil separator that has been in use by US Navy ships since before the early eighties.

      I realize this is Slashdot, but if you RTFA you will find that he got his hands on the design and spent $20M or so of his own money on having them improved to the point that they were useful for processing a mess into CLEAN water AND clean OIL. Nowhere is it claimed that he invented the centrifugal separator.

    • by goombah99 (560566) on Sunday June 13, 2010 @08:46AM (#32556528)

      The gulf is blooming with natural oil eating bacteria that already know how to live among the communities and predators there. Indeed there are so many of them eating the oil right now they say it's removing all the oxygen from the water making a deadzone.

      • by kdemetter (965669) on Sunday June 13, 2010 @10:01AM (#32556868)

        You make an excellent point : there's no telling what will happen when you introduce a newly discovered ( and as such , pretty much unknown ) life form into the open sea.
        However , from past experiences , when we decide to meddle with nature , it usually doesn't end up well for either.

        • This is a newly discover strain of a very common and widely dispersed bacteria, Pseudomonas aeruginosa [wikipedia.org]. This strain developed naturally in an oil contaminated enviroment, and P. aeruginosa is a well known for eating oil. My hunch is this strain is either already there or will evolve on it's own, if the strain isn't introduced into the GoM by us.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The bacteria idea sounds great, but will probably result in a new and deadly plague that will give rise to oil gobbling mutants!

      As for the other idea, I don't see how Kevin Costner can claim to have developed an oil separator that has been in use by US Navy ships since before the early eighties. We had them on my ship when I was in back in 1983. They were used to separate water and dirt from lube oil.

      There are natural bacteria that eat oil that have been used before and are very safe, even it wetlands:

      http://farmwars.info/?p=3013 [farmwars.info]

    • by treeves (963993)
      You're talking about the DeLaval and Sharples centrifugal oil purifiers on Navy ships. We had one on the submarine I was on too, though I can't remember seeing it used much. We ran them in Machinist's Mate A school and learned about their operation. The thing in TFA sounds different, certainly in size, but also perhaps in influent. The Navy units were about the size of an automobile engine and took in mostly pure oil of fairly low viscosity. The Costner units would have to be much larger and take in mostly
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I heard that Cane Toads soak up oil at 10 times the rate.

    • by fbjon (692006)
      Exactly. The bacteria will feed on the masses of oil, grow into films of unimaginable size and thickess!

      Until the oil is consumed and they all die.

  • That there isn't a huge evolutionary change to go from oil eating to flesh eating...
    • by Cwix (1671282)
      Just the other day while I was eating a cheeseburger, i was thinking, it would taste GREAT with some light sweet crude on it.
  • Won't work (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BlueParrot (965239) on Sunday June 13, 2010 @08:36AM (#32556474)
    Given he quantity of oil that has been released and the volume of the gulf, the only way this could possibly work was if the bacteria in question was able to spread throughout the gulf after being released. Unfortunately, if that is the case then that's really not something you want to introduce to an ecosystem that isn't used to it. The oil is bad, but we know from experience that introducing new organism to already vulnerable ecosystems is generally a bad idea.
    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      This whole thing sounds more and more like Neal Stephenson's Zodiac [amazon.com] as time goes by. And that story included a nuclear option as well (I don't want to spoil it for anyone who hasn't read it; it's a great book. In fact if Stephenson was too pie in the sky for you before, this is the one to read. It would make a much better movie than the pile of shit that came out which is called "Zodiac", too. Who keeps putting the Gyllenhalls in movies?)

      • by Sir_Lewk (967686)

        I've been thinking that this entire time. I just read Zodiac a month or two and the parrallels are starting to become pretty amusing :) I'm particularly interested to see how that stuff with the oil dispersents will turn out.

    • The oil is bad, but we know from experience that introducing new organism to already vulnerable ecosystems is generally a bad idea.

      It's actually a slightly different strain of a very common bacteria, Pseudomonas aeruginosa [wikipedia.org], that's better a biodegrading the very toxic PAHs, Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons [wikipedia.org] because of the Biosurfactant [wikipedia.org] they produce. Many other stains of P. aeruginosa are already there naturally eating up the oil spilled.

  • by buback (144189) on Sunday June 13, 2010 @08:39AM (#32556484)
    I get WHY Kevin Costner is getting so much press with his oil separation machine; it's not like he has to work hard to get a camera in front of his face. But it's not like the separation process is what is causing an environmental disaster; it's all that oil out in the ocean. If Kevin Costner was selling a machine that can suck up cubic miles of water, that would be newsworthy
    • by beakerMeep (716990) on Sunday June 13, 2010 @09:17AM (#32556662)

      If Kevin Costner was selling a machine that can suck up cubic miles of water, that would be newsworthy

      Must.....resist.....Waterworld.....joke....

      • by tjstork (137384)

        Must.....resist.....Waterworld.....joke....

        Probably needs to clean up the gulf of mexico just to finally pay off a bunch of old waterworld bills.

    • by Draek (916851)

      As I understand it, the interesting part is that the resulting oil is clean enough to be sold and used, which means there's a bigger economic incentive (or less of an economic cost) to clean up the spill.

      Let's face it, corporations don't work as hard for a "do it or else" as they do with a "free oil for the taking!".

      • by chill (34294)

        And if they aren't going to sell it, exactly what do people think they would do with it?

    • by couchslug (175151)

      Him getting press is a way to promote the tech. The average USian doesn't know anything about icky science, but understands Hollywood stars.

      It's the height of arrogance to assume the little people are more than they are.

      It is the height of realism to market to them in ways to which they respond. The public absolutely dictate the terms of engagement.

      • It's the height of arrogance to assume the little people are more than they are.

        Careful, buddy, our irony meters might get stretched out of shape.

  • Nice. New bacteria. I don't have time to go look it up, but somebody else might... I'm under the impression that the whole process of breaking down hydrocarbons eventually leads to a drastic increase in ammonia and related compounds, and severe oxygen depletion. Even (especially?) biological processes. Somebody once posted a nice short progression of the basic chemistry involved in a similar topic here on /. not too long ago.

    Ain't nothin' free. Break it down? It has to break down into something...

  • by linzeal (197905) on Sunday June 13, 2010 @08:46AM (#32556520) Homepage Journal

    There are thousands of bacteria on the face of the planet that can break down oil and I bet many of them are in the Gulf itself, right now, which has been seeping oil for what, 100's of millions of years? The problem is not if there are bacteria that can metabolize oil; we already know 100's of ones that do, the question is, will it be more effective than the 1000's already out there?

    This is just a press release for a grant writing fishing expedition for BP money. Everyone is doing it right now in academia, trust me.

  • by chill (34294) on Sunday June 13, 2010 @09:39AM (#32556760) Journal

    The REAL reason Kevin Costner waited this long to release this isn't government testing. His arch nemesis, The Deacon (Dennis Hopper), just died, removing the last hurdle by getting the smokers out of the way.

  • If it was just discovered, it will take at the very least 10 years for it to be deployable, likely significantly longer. That this is published now is just profiteering from the disaster.

  • What do they feed them on while breeding them up in the lab in sufficient quantities to be useful? Snake oil?
  • Good for Costner (Score:3, Interesting)

    by blind biker (1066130) on Sunday June 13, 2010 @10:23AM (#32557000) Journal

    I don't know of any person in the world that has put his/her money so consistently where their mouth is. Costner has spent most of his fortune in developing various environmentally friendly technologies, such as super-fast flywheel energy storage. Honestly, I thought such a altruistic business proposal could never succeed in the world we live in. Maybe I wasn't 100% right.

    • The development of annular centrifugal contactors began at the National Laboratories more than three decades ago. The first centrifugal contactors were devised at the Savannah River Laboratory (SRL) and, subsequently modified at Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) to the form known as the annular centrifugal contactor. A reasonably complete description of the technology has been provided in papers by ANL scientists (1–4). The contactors consist of a vertical centrifuge providing for both the mixing and

    • Elon Musk has a pretty good track record too.
  • How we forget Kudzu (Score:3, Informative)

    by HockeyPuck (141947) on Sunday June 13, 2010 @10:38AM (#32557062)

    If you've ever driven through the south eastern US, say along HWY 85 from Georgia to Alabama you can see fields of kudzu [wikipedia.org] that are engulfing whole areas. This stuff grows inches per day and covers trees, cars, telephone poles etc..

    • by Kagura (843695)
      This is not off-topic. Mod parent up, he even included the wiki link for those who don't know about kudzu.
  • ...a new strain of bacteria that may be able to aid cleanup efforts in the Gulf of Mexico.

    Lemme guess. They've got a patent pending on it.

  • Same Crude Material (Score:2, Interesting)

    by phexx (1651139)
    As people have already pointed out, introducing a single bacteria in the mass quantity that it would take to actually facilitate improvement would probably end up changing the the entire makeup of the gulf. It could have far reaching effects that we couldn't even predict. To a degree, the sad reality of this situation is that with our limited technology, we are going to have to roll up our sleeves and do this by hand as there is no quick fix. BP is using dispersant chemicals only to avoid pictures of sea an

"Why can't we ever attempt to solve a problem in this country without having a 'War' on it?" -- Rich Thomson, talk.politics.misc

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