Bacteria in the gulf mostly digested gas, not oil, study finds

The discovery tempers hopes that microorganisms have eaten up most of the spilled oil in the gulf, as other scientists had recently suggested, the lead author says.

Bacteria that attacked the plumes of oil and gas resulting from the Deepwater Horizon gusher in the Gulf of Mexico mainly digested natural gas spewing from the wellhead — propane, ethane and butane — rather than oil, according to a study published in the journal Science.

The paper doesn't rule out the possibility that bacteria also are consuming oil from the spill, the authors said. Instead, it suggests that natural gas primed the growth of bacteria that may have gone on to digest "more complex hydrocarbons" — oil — as the spill aged and propane and ethane were depleted.

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