Oil-encased water droplets are mini-ecosystems for microbes

Dark, sludgy oil may not seem like an environment suited to life. But microbes, known to make meals of such organic stews by breaking down large hydrocarbons to extract food and energy, have been found before in petroleum reservoirs. Now, in a new study, researchers report finding diverse communities of microorganisms living inside tiny water droplets in Pitch Lake, the world’s largest natural asphalt seep located on the Caribbean island of Trinidad. The discovery may have implications for industry, scientists say, as well as for our understanding of extreme life.

Full content for EARTH is available to subscribers. If you would like to gain access to the full version of this article, as well as all EARTH content, please subscribe today.

If you are connecting using a Library (IP-based) Subscription, please access full issues of the magazine through our Library Access portal.

Timothy Oleson

Timothy Oleson

Tim is the news editor at EARTH, and writes the Bare Earth Elements blog. His scientific interests span the geosciences from biogeochemistry to seismology to space science. Formerly based in Madison, Wis., he now resides in the Washington, D.C., area.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014 - 06:00

Did you know ...

The digital edition of EARTH Magazine is a free subscription for members of AGI's Member Societies.  Find out more!

EARTH only uses professional science journalists and scientists to author our content?  In this era of fake news and click-bait, EARTH offers factual and researched journalism. But EARTH is a non-profit magazine, and at least 10 times more people read EARTH than pay for it. As advertising revenues across the media decline, we need your help to ensure that we can continue bringing you the reliable and well-written coverage of earth science you know and love. Our goal is not only to inform our readers, but to inform decision makers across the economic and political spectrum about the science of our planet. So, we need your help. By becoming a subscriber or making a tax-deductible contribution to support EARTH, you can fund our writers and help make sure the world knows about our planet.

Make a contribution

Subscribe