| OSLO, April 28
OSLO, April 28 A type of bacteria that eats
natural gases may provide a small defence against leaks such as
BP's Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010 and curb global
warming, a scientific report said on Monday.
The study identified a strain of microbe able to grow on
both methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, and propane. Both are
found in unrefined natural gas and scientists had previously
thought that bacteria could only grow on one or the other.
In consuming both methane and propane the bacteria prevent
the gases reaching the atmosphere, Britain's University of East
Anglia said of the report written by two of its scientists in
the journal Nature.
That means the microbes "could help mitigate the effects of
the release of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere from both
natural gas seeps in the environment and those arising from
man-made activity such as fracking and oil spills," it said.
The versatile diet of the bacteria, methylocella silvestris,
may mean a microbial ally in absorbing pollution and greenhouse
gases that a U.N. panel of scientists says are extremely likely
to be the main cause of global warming since 1950.
First found in northern Europe, the bacteria were also
detected after BP's spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, the
worst U.S. offshore disaster, the study said. The explosion of
the Deepwater Horizon rig killed 11 workers and spewed oil and
gases into the Gulf of Mexico.
Colin Murrell, a co-author, told Reuters that scientists did
not know how far bacteria limited leaks. The study said natural
seepage of gases from underground deposits was widespread but
Still, he said it might be possible sometime to grow the
microbes and seed them in areas where gas is leaking. "There is
potential ... it may be seeding, leaving it and helping nature a
bit along its way," he said.
But another expert who was not involved in the study said
the bacteria seemed able to adapt on their own.
"The good thing about such bacteria is that they can grow
fast: the one found here can double every 10 hours," Antje
Boetius, a professor at the Max Planck Institute for Marine
Microbiology in Germany, told Reuters.
"After an oil spill, it can theoretically make up most of
the bacterial community in the environment after a week and
consume a lot of the methane or propane leaking," she said.
That explosive growth meant it would not be necessary for
companies to try to grow bacteria, for instance, in case of oil
spills. "Nature grows them for us," she said.
Methane comes from human sources such as livestock - the
digestive tracts of cows, for instance, produce large amounts -
rice paddies and fossil fuel extraction.
Such sources account for about 50 to 65 percent of methane
with the rest coming from natural wetlands, lakes, wildfires or
permafrost, according to a U.N. report last year.
(Reporting By Alister Doyle; Editing by Sophie Walker)