When it comes to the topic of cleaning up oil spills, microbes are usually a topic that comes up. But what are microbes and why are they a such a big thing? First off let’s begin by defining what they are. When most people are talking about microbes, they are talking about the tiny living things that are everywhere. You can find microbes anywhere – in soil, lakes, oceans and even the air. Somethings they are even in our body both on us and in our body. Even though they are so tiny that we can’t see them, these microbes play a huge role in our world/environment, so much so that without them we wouldn’t be here. However, in our case, we are talking about microbes that are able to clean up oil, mostly in our case these will be bacteria and fungi. However, we haven’t found a single one that was been able to fully break down oil. While there are known bacteria that can break down some compounds that makes oil, we don’t have one single one that can do all.
Still what is this oil we are talking about here and why does it matter? First crude oil is what we are trying to break down or remove from the ocean. Crude oil is pumped from the grounds from almost all around the world and is transported to wherever it’s needed. — Crude oil is commonly known as petroleum. It’s a liquid found within the Earth comprised of hydrocarbons, organic compounds and small amounts of metal. Usually the primary components of this liquid are made up of hydrocarbons, alone with organic compounds ranging from nitrogen to sulfur. So, what? — Still how are crude oil made and where do they come from? Well to this day we know oil as a natural product, generated from organism that long-ago used sunlight as their energy source, in other words these organisms we know today are algae. As many of these were buried deep in the Earth and heated, the resulting material is oil. —
Even though crude oil or petroleum is just made up of many natural components that are found in our daily lives. There are still different types of components are can be broken up from the main group. For crude oil one can break this group into 3 types, volatile compounds, saturated hydrocarbons and lastly aromatic compounds. —
So how does the two function with one another? First of microbes are usually consuming it, metabolizing it, and breaking it down. While this is just the bare bones of the process its more complex and with many different types of microbes to do so. So, in order for something to break another thing down, they needed to make an enzyme that would do the job. So most commonly these oil-degrading enzymes is most commonly found in bacteria – still there are another organism that can do so. In this case the bacterial cell then harnesses the energy released by breaking down the process for themselves. There are many different varieties of hydrocarbons, and over millions of years, bacteria have evolved enzyme for different types of compounds. While no one bacteria can break all there are couple that came break most. So, when these bacteria ingest these oils, they use oxygen to burn the hydrocarbons that makes up the oil. The way to function is similar to how we do function. So, when bacteria is eating food, we see them breaking down oil which is cleaning up the environment. In other word what they are doing is eating or metabolizing the oil in order to survive.
As we know bacteria is all around us, however the oil breaking types is slightly different. Was we know the oil breaking bacteria uses oil to survive, thus when there isn’t a oil spill the amount of microbes that are available in the open decreases. In other words, these types of microbes that can clean up oil spills are considered a supply and demand population. While there are already microbes for just the regular background supply of oil that is constantly in the water, whenever an increase influx of oil is available their population will increase and if there isn’t then population will decrease. While this process is always happening, they problem with this is the time for the population to increase in response to the influx of oil. However, the amour of oil that spill into the water can outpace the number of microbes that can grow there. Reducing their effects on that area. But another key part that scientist is looking at is the actual speed they are able to metabolize oil. As research as seen that some are more versatile and faster than others. Still the key thing about naturally made microbes is the amount of resources the environment has, without certain resources the population of the microbes are limited. So scientist are looking for ways of creating faster and efficient microbes to speed up the process and reduce damage to the environment. Still the environment is also a key factor in these microbes growth and speed.