Researchers with the University of East Anglia have reported a unique discovery: bacteria that eats oil in one of the most mysterious parts of our planet. The microscopic critters were discovered in the Mariana Trench, the deepest ocean trench in the world. According to the study, the Mariana Trench has the highest proportion of oil-eating bacteria on Earth.
The Mariana Trench is located in the Western Pacific Ocean; it’s deeper than Mount Everest is tall and remains one of the biggest mysteries on Earth. Humanity officially has more information about Mars than it does about this part of our own planet, study lead Xiao-Hua Zhang explained.
A team of scientists studied samples collected from the deepest part of the Mariana Trench (about 36,000 ft down) and discovered a new group of bacteria that degrades hydrocarbons, which are the primary components in substances like natural gas and petroleum.
This category of bacteria isn’t new — these microorganisms are found in many places and contribute to the degradation of oil that results from things like oil spills. However, the study found that the Mariana Trench is home to the highest proportion of these microorganisms on Earth.
What, exactly, is this deep sea bacteria feeding on? The researchers found biologically-produced hydrocarbons in ocean sediment from the trench’s bottom, as well as in the sea water around 19,600ft below the surface. The scientists suspect the hydrocarbons can be found in water at lower depths, as well. This is the first time these hydrocarbons have been found in microbes at that depth.