Oil eating bacteria may be the secret weapon in the Gulf oil spill. Officials and responders are hoping that the oil that is not able to be gathered from the BP oil spill sites will eventually be broken down by the environment. One species of bacteria that is extremely rare in the open ocean but that multiplies exponentially at sites of oil spills is Alcanivorax borkumensis.
How does this obscure microbe thrive in an environment that is toxic to most other living organisms?
Scientists at the German Research Center for Biotechnology in 2006 analyzed all three million base pairs in the microbe Alcanivorax borkumensis and found that it is particularly adept at utilizing both inorganic and organic nitrogen and also at breaking down the oil molecule to get to the highly desirable alkanes.
At this point it is uncertain how long it will take for this oil eating bacteria and other environmental degradation processes to eliminate the millions of gallons of spilled oil.