Six months ago — just before the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill — a team of researchers studied the methane consuming microbes that live deep in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico and found that they consume up to 100 times more gas than previously thought. The resulting study is about to be published in a new issue of Deep-Sea Research II but there’s no doubt that their research has been helping us all along in this great disaster cleanup. Their studies in the Gulf revealed the most effective microbes ever recorded and their hope is that these little natural wonders can lend us bumbling humans a helping hand.

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The study notes that because the floor of the Gulf of Mexico can be between 5,000 and 7,000 feet deep, gaseous leaks are a normal part of the seafloor’s day to day activities. The tiny microbes live in or near the seafloor and snack on gas leaks. “Entire communities have arisen on the seafloor that depend on these seeps. Our analysis shows that within these communities, some microbes consume methane 10 to 100 times faster than we’ve previously realized,” noted Peter R. Girguis, associate professor of organismic and evolutionary biology at Harvard University who was involved in the study. Though we’ve reported on these little gas eaters before we’re happy to hear that they’re working far harder on helping to clean up the spill than we had previously thought.

The authors of the study also wanted to stress that their research was done before the oil spill happened and that the amount of methane leaking from the Deepwater Horizon disaster was much higher than the amount that leaks from the seafloor day to day. Also, since the microbes snack on gas — mostly methane, but also propane, ethane, and butane — and not oil, the crude oil leaking from the well would still be at large after they ate their fill. The researchers found their information by measuring the methane leaks on the seafloor and then measuring the amount of methane in the surrounding waters. Then they combined this information with measurements of microbial activity and they were able to deduce the amount of gas eaten by the microbes.

Via Science Daily