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How Microbial Communities are an Ocean of Possibilities

The oceans of the world have been a source of mystery and wonderment for humans since the beginning of recorded history. They have served as a method of transportation for peoples, products, and ideas while providing sustenance for countless coastal civilizations. But did you realize they are also home to unique microbiological communities?  And they are contributing in a substantial way.

Microbes in the Mariana Trench

New research has just been published that dives deeper into the microbiological communities present at the bottom of the Mariana Trench which is the deepest location in any of the four oceans, measuring 10 994 meters in depth.  The article published in Microbiome details, surprisingly, that there was an abrupt increase in hydrocarbon-degrading prokaryotes (HDPs) at depths greater than 10 400 m. HDP are microorganisms who break up and metabolize hydrocarbons as their food source; the main bacteria found in the depths of the Mariana Trench responsible for hydrocarbon degradation in this research are from the genera Oleibacter, Thalassolituus, and Alcanivorax. After comparing data to other research, it was identified that this location has the highest proportion of HDP present in any natural environment on earth – a truly unique microbiological community.

These genera of microorganisms contain genes involved in the degradation of specifically alkanes, which are the simplest form of hydrocarbons, containing only single bonds between their carbon and hydrogen atoms. Further, the source of alkanes that the HDP at the bottom of the trench relies on to survive are hypothesized to be created by an unknown biological source at the bottom of the trench. Future research aims to identify the source of the alkanes.

Cleanup on Aisle Oil

The discovery of new populations of microorganisms in the ocean who consume hydrocarbons and operate in extreme environments is great news for anybody who’s heard of bioremediation. Bioremediation is the use of living organisms to remove pollutants from soil, water, and other environments. It is a quickly growing research topic for universities around the world and is of significant interest to private companies who may be directly or indirectly implicated in the pollution event. For 2008, Google Scholar retrieved 9020 results for peer-reviewed papers, books and patents containing the word bioremediation, while for 2018, Google Scholar retrieved 17600 results for the same search parameters.

Interest in bioremediation was escalated after the catastrophic events of Deepwater Horizon in 2010, which released almost 5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The high salinity of process waters, and of seas and oceans creates unique challenges for bioremediation, as organisms need to be able to survive (and preferable thrive) while they perform their bioremediation activities. Recent research reviews microbial hydrocarbon degradation in hypersaline environments, while other research reviews hydrocarbon degradation in saline, aerobic conditions. All researchers call for additional work to pinpoint the genes responsible for the hydrocarbon degradation pathways, which once discovered, might allow us to construct custom-built Franken-organisms who can provide a readymade cleanup crew whenever required for future contamination events.

Oceans contain incredible biodiversity and hopefully, we’ll learn more from an ambitious project called Seabed 2030 – which aims to enlist research vessels all over the world to help map the unknown reaches of our oceans and possibly uncover more productive microbiological communities.

It’s important to understand that microbes can have both positive and negative effects on environments and processes.  The more we know, the better our understanding is.  LuminUltra’s GeneCount® qPCR Solutions and Services give more information to operators in understanding their processes, so they can better manage the cause and effect relationships these microbes have on their systems.

LuminUltra Team

Founded in 1995, LuminUltra is a global leader in applied molecular biology diagnostics, with solutions and services that deliver accurate and actionable feedback in bioprocessing, biofouling, and biosecurity applications. With operations in six countries, LuminUltra serves dozens of Fortune 500 customers across more than 100 countries. At the same time, LuminUltra fosters a culture of innovation and agility, working tirelessly to deliver more value to customers. In recent years it has been on an accelerated growth path, acquiring multiple companies after forming a partnership with XPV Water Partners.  

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