Unexpected Discovery: Marine Bacteria in Canadian Arctic Capable of Biodegrading Diesel and Oil

Marine bacteria in the frigid waters of the Canadian Arctic are capable of biodegrading oil and diesel fuel, according to a new study published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology, a journal of the American Society for Microbiology.

Genomic sequencing revealed unexpected potential for hydrocarbon bioremediation in lineages of bacteria including ParaperlucidibacaCycloclasticus, and Zhongshania, said coauthor Casey Hubert, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Geomicrobiology, University of Calgary. These “may represent key players in the response to Arctic marine oil spills.”

“The study also confirmed that providing nutrients can enhance hydrocarbon biodegradation under these low temperature conditions,” said Dr. Hubert.

The impetus for this work: “These permanently cold waters are seeing increasing industrial activity related to maritime shipping and offshore oil and gas sector activities,” said Dr. Hubert.

Sean Murphy, Dr. Hubert’s student, who grew up in the region, instigated the project. Mr. Murphy, Aquatic Scientist, ERM Canada, had noted both the benefit offshore oil had brought to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, but had been deeply troubled by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and had focused his masters research on the Labrador Sea to “help inform future oil spill mitigation strategies… at cold temperatures in the region.”

The Labrador coast—where the study took place—is important for Indigenous peoples who rely on the ocean for food, and that unlike at lower latitudes, there’s been a dearth of research on bioremediation this far north, Dr. Hubert noted.

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