Scientists from Germany and the USA have discovered deep-sea animals living in symbiosis with bacteria that use oil as an energy source
In the depths of the Gulf of Mexico, oil and tar seep from the ocean floor and form bizarre structures reminiscent of cooled lava – so-called asphalt volcanoes. Researchers from Bremen, Germany, and the USA discovered these volcanoes nearly 15 years ago. These exotic environments still have many surprises in store, such as the one shown now in a study published in Nature Microbiology by an international research group led by Maxim Rubin-Blum and Nicole Dubilier from the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology as well as researchers from MARUM in Bremen. At asphalt volcanoes in the Gulf of Mexico that spew oil, gas and tar, mussels and sponges live in symbiosis with bacteria that use short-chained alkanes in the oil as an energy source. The researchers furthermore discovered that bacteria closely related to the symbionts, which bloomed during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, are also able to thrive on short-chain alkanes.