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.

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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