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Bacteria Attacks Oil Like Black Monday Novel

New species of bacteria that can "eat" petroleum products have been discovered by environmental scientists at UC Riverside. Similar organisms are fictionalized in the new sf/thriller Black Monday by R. Scott Reiss.


(Bacteria from La Brea are like Black Monday's)

The bacteria contain previously undiscovered classes of enzymes that can break down petroleum products.

"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."

It is hoped that the bacteria could be used to help with the clean-up after oil spills (bioremediation), new medical treatments, alternative energy biofuels and enhanced oil recovery.

The researchers had better be careful. In his new novel Black Monday, author R. Scott Weiss writes about a terrible plague that could destroy modern civilization and kill millions of people. The plague organism does not target human beings - it attacks oil and makes it unusable, thus bringing our mechanized civilization to a halt.

I highly recommend this novel. It's a great read, and it really makes you think about what will happen as we approach (and pass) peak oil - the point at which the amount of oil pumped out of the ground starts to decrease every year.

A similar tale unfolds in Ill Wind, a 1995 novel by Kevin Anderson:

It is the largest oil spill in history: a supertanker crashes into the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco Bay. Desperate to avert environmental damage (as well as the PR disaster), the multinational oil company releases an untested designer oil-eating microbe to break up the spill.What the company didnít realize is that their microbe propagates through the air Ö and it mutates to consume anything made of petrocarbons: oil, gasoline, synthetic fabrics, plastics of all kinds. And when every piece of plastic begins to dissolve, itís too late.Ö

Don't miss these recent bacteria-related news stories:

Read more about New petroleum-degrading bacteria found at Rancho La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 5/10/2007)

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