Bacteria In The World’s Oceans Produce Millions Of Tonnes Of Hydrocarbons Each Year

2015-10-06T12:52:56+00:00 October 6, 2015|
Cyanobacteria in dune pond, behind Yyteri beach, Finland. (Credit: Flickr)

(Click to enlarge) Cyanobacteria in dune pond, behind Yyteri beach, Finland. (Credit: Flickr)

An international team of researchers, led by the University of Cambridge, has estimated the amount of hydrocarbons — the primary ingredient in crude oil — that are produced by a massive population of photosynthetic marine microbes, called cyanobacteria. These organisms in turn support another population of bacteria that ‘feed’ on these compounds.

(From Science Daily) — In the study, conducted in collaboration with researchers from the University of Warwick and MIT, and published today (5 October) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the scientists measured the amount of hydrocarbons in a range of laboratory-grown cyanobacteria and used the data to estimate the amount produced in the oceans.

Although each individual cell contains minuscule quantities of hydrocarbons, the researchers estimated that the amount produced by two of the most abundant cyanobacteria in the world — Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus — is more than two million tonnes in the ocean at any one time. This indicates that these two groups alone produce between 300 and 800 million tonnes of hydrocarbons per year, yet the concentration at any time in unpolluted areas of the oceans is tiny, thanks to other bacteria that break down the hydrocarbons as they are produced.

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