Oil eating bacteria could clean ocean spills

An oil eating bacteria has been discovered, and it could greatly reduce the environmental devastation caused by oil spills. 

When oil floods into the ocean, it has an almost indelible effect on the marine ecosystem.

A newly-discovered microscopic organism with enzyme could drastically reduce this impact. The bacterium, which actively feeds on oil, is similar to the plastic-eating bacteria which we wrote about in March, 2016.

Researchers at the University of Quebec boldly stated that ‘however widespread and serious the damage may be, the solution could be microscopic – Alcanivorax borkumensis – a bacterium that feeds on hydrocarbons.’ This means that, no matter how big the spill may be, the oil eating bacteria would be able to take care of it.

Dr Tarek Rouissi, one of the lead researchers on the project, spoke with The Daily Mail about the studies she had carried out with her team, ‘I had a hunch, and the characterization of the enzymes produced by the bacterium seems to have proven me right,’ Dr Rouissi said.

The paper also outlined the step-by-step process which the researchers took while examining the effects on the oil spills.


Researchers at the University of Quebec have discovered that a bacterium called Alcanivorax borkumensis could be used to clean up oil spills because it feeds on oil.

To test the bacterium, the researchers purified enzymes produced by it and treated contaminated soil samples with them.

A report on the experiment said the results were hopeful.

‘The process is effective in removing benzene, toluene and xylene, and has been tested under a number of different conditions to show that it is a powerful way to clean up polluted land and marine environments,’ it said.

The research team will continue to study how Alcanivorax borkumensis metabolizes hydrocarbons and its potential to decontaminate oil spill sites.

One of the bacterium’s advantages is that it can be used in environments that are hard to access, the researchers said.”

Colin J McCracken

Colin J McCracken is a content designer, editor and writer from Ireland. Giving form and function to the My Good Planet vision, it has been his role to design and develop the online platform, content and presence of the project.

1 Comment
  1. It would be very interesting to test it against the archaea-based microbe consortium that currently is the #1-performing on the EPA’s NCPPS. If MicroSorb goes to #2, and the Alcanivorax borkumensis demonstrate superior performance, that would be a net win for oil spill clean up around the world. Legacy methods typically leave 85% of spilled oil unrecovered, which is not surprising given how little can be achieved with crude manual methods of clean up. More bioremediation is needed, no matter how you slice it.

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