A University of Oklahoma technology—GeoChip—played a critical role in an intensive study of the dispersed oil plume that formed at a depth between 3,600 and 4,000 feet some 10 miles from BP’s Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico.
An OU research team led by Jizhong Zhou, director of the Institute for Environmental Genomics, developed the new generation GeoChip, which contributed to the findings of the study by simultaneously detecting more than 150,000 different functional genes for various microbial ecological and biogeochemical processes.
Using the GeoChip technology and another technology developed at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, scientists found that microbial activity, spearheaded by a new and unclassified species, has degraded virtually all of the oil to undetectable levels without a significant level of oxygen depletion.
GeoChip technology reveals a variety of genes/population involved in hydrocarbon degradation, which are significantly correlated with oil contaminants. These results indicate that there exists a potential for intrinsic bioremediation of oil contaminants in the deep-sea, and that oil-degrading communities could play a significant role in controlling the ultimate fates of hydrocarbons in the Gulf.
The data from this study are the first ever from a deepwater dispersed oil plume. Results of this study are based on the analysis of more than 200 samples collected from 17 deepwater sites between May 25 and June 2, 2010. According to Terry Hazen, Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory research team leader, the GeoChip analyses greatly enhanced the findings of the study.
The results of this research have been reported in the journal Science in a paper titled “Deep-sea oil plume enriches indigenous oil-degrading bacteria.” Zhou and team members co-authored the paper with other research team members.
Zhou and his team received a 2009 R&D 100 award for the GeoChip technology. For more information about the award-winning GeoChip technology and applications, visit http://ieg.ou.edu.
Contacts and sources: