Investigating the effect of oil spills
on the environment and public health.
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Funding Source: Year One Block Grant - The Alabama Marine Environmental Science Consortium

Project Overview

Microbial Responses to Hydrocarbon and Dispersant-Lab and Field-based Studies

Principal Investigator
The University of Alabama
Department of Biological Sciences
Member Institutions
Dauphin Island Sea Lab (DISL), The University of Alabama, University of Oklahoma, University of Tennessee


Microorganisms have long been known to possess metabolic capabilities to transform and/or completely mineralize (to carbon dioxide) components of crude oil. For example, microoroganisms can decompose many of the components of crude oil, ranging from simple aliphatic hydrocarbons to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). A study of the innate (intrinsic) capabilities of naturally occurring microbial communities in a given ecosystem to degrade and reduce contaminant concentrations in the environment will provide valuable insight about the dynamics of the naturally occurring biodegradative microorganisms and their genetic signatures that drive the succession of the degradative function.

In this collaborative project, we propose to conduct field- and laboratory-based (mesocosm) studies to characterize the genetic signatures and their functions from the naturally occurring coastal Alabama microbial communities. A suite of tools and methods will be employed by the MESC collaborators according to their research expertise. Methods, for example, will include real-time quantitative PCR (Q-PCR) and real-time quantitative reverse transcriptase PCR (Q-RT-PCR) as well as other biosignature methods (i.e., PFLA, plasmid analysis). Conventional microbiological methods (i.e., enrichments) as well as phylogenetic analyses to assess the responses of microbial populations to hydrocarbons and dispersants will also be determined. Porewater and sediment analyses will also be conducted by collaborators who have expertise in sediment geochemistry characterizations.

This research was made possible by a grant from BP/The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative.