In a Chinese oil field, biologists have found unique bacteria that can ingest heavy oil and turn it into methane and other components of natural gas.
The journal Nature published the results of the study conducted by the scientists.
The unique discovery was made by Rafael Laso Perez of the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology and colleagues by studying samples of heavy oil taken from the Shengli oil field, one of the largest in the People’s Republic of China, where scientists discovered a previously unknown species. It is a bacteria that can decompose oil and at the same time convert its decomposing derivatives into methane and other gaseous hydrocarbons at temperatures above 50 degrees Celsius above zero. Scientists have called these microbes Methanoliparia.
Microbes also discovered other unique features, for example, they preferred to extract energy from long chains of saturated hydrocarbons, which are of no value in oil refining. In addition, it can degrade aromatic and cyclic hydrocarbons, which is unreasonable for all other “oil-eating” microbes.
Analysis of the Methanoliparia genome showed that this super-eating ability came because the bacteria break down hydrocarbons using a series of previously unknown enzymes.
Lasso-Perez and colleagues hope that additional experiments will help adapt the microbes to produce natural gas bio-isotopes and extract the remaining hydrocarbons from depleted oil fields.
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