Bacteria naturally present in the Gulf of Mexico did a great job helping clean up the oil spill from the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in 2010. In other cases, it has also been shown the high efficiency that certain microorganisms have to repair environmental disasters caused by toxic discharges. Microbes of this kind can, for example, convert metals soluble solids and no leak currents cannot reach or aquifers.
However, very little is known about these organisms, more colorful than it may seem. A new study may help change that.
The team of researchers of Kelly Wrighton and Jill Banfield, University of California at Berkeley, has delved into the basement of one of these sites contaminated by heavy metals, to analyze the genes of the microbial community underground, hoping to find ways to help improve the ability of these microbes to combat pollution by toxic metals.
Their efforts have already obtained the first fruits. The team has about 150,000 genes sequenced from soil samples contaminated site of that in the United States, and identify their owners in most cases. They are about 80 species of microbes, especially bacteria and archaea, plus a few viruses.
Microbes were from groundwater samples collected in the field, along the Colorado River in Rifle, a town in the state of Colorado. The land was used in the past to process vanadium, during and after the Second World War, uranium. The great proximity of the Colorado River makes the rain can carry dissolved metals to the groundwater bodies and finally to the river. Some microbes “breathe” metals in a way comparable in some ways to how we breathe oxygen, and in doing these dangerous metals chemically altered so that they become insoluble and remain anchored in the sediment.
Banfield refers to microbial communities such as “dark matter” of biology, in analogy to the missing mass in the universe that has been puzzling astronomers for a long time. The evolutionary tree bacteria can be divided into 60 branches near edges level, but in general, nothing is known about approximately half of them.
This new study provides new light on the ecology and evolution of a significant part of that “dark matter” of the microbial world.
They discovered in this study, and the new findings to be made in this line of research could also lead to better ways to stimulate the uptake of carbon by soil bacteria and reduce the presence of harmful green house gases in the atmosphere.