In a study published online in the April 6 issue of Applied and Environmental Microbiology, scientists report of identifying more than 200 species of petroleum-degrading bacteria from the Rancho La Brea tar pits based on DNA sequencing. These bacteria and enzymes derived from them may have potential applications in bioremediation (cleaning oil spills), medical treatments (new medicines), alternative energy (biofuels), enhanced oil recovery, and industrial applications (biochemicals and biotechnology).
“We were surprised to find these bacteria because asphalt is an extreme and hostile environment for life to survive,” said Jong-Shik Kim, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Environmental Sciences, who initiated the study. “It’s clear, however, that these living organisms can survive in heavy oil mixtures containing many highly toxic chemicals. Moreover, these bacteria survive with no water and little or no oxygen.”