Microbial Genomics Can Measure Change in the World’s Oceans, New Report Highlights Discoveries

April 24, 2020

Washington, D.C. - April 24, 2020 - The year 2020 marks the 10th anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) disaster, when 4.9 million barrels of oil and 250,000 metric tonnes of natural gas were discharged into the Gulf of Mexico. After the oil spill, the Gulf of Mexico’s microbial communities played a critical role in the cleanup, contributing core hydrocarbon bioremediation services. Prior to the spill, relatively little was known about the potential for native marine microbial communities to degrade petroleum hydrocarbons, but today, technical advances such as high-throughput sequencing and new discoveries in genomics have revealed the natural capacity of microbes, especially in the Gulf of Mexico, to catalyze bioremediation of petroleum hydrocarbons.

In April 2019, a colloquium of the American Academy of Microbiology (ASM’s honorific leadership group), the American Geophysical Union (AGU) and the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI)  convened to assess the state of the field with regard to new research tools, methodologies, data resources, collaborations, and models that will advance basic and applied research for microbial bioremediation. Their findings and recommendations are outlined in a new report, Microbial Genomics of the Global Ocean System, released this week.

“This report presents the results of collaboration among scientists from several disciplines and their professional societies:  the American Society for Microbiology, The American Geophysical Union, and the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative,” said Rita Colwell, ASM Past President and Distinguished Professor, Institute of Advanced Computer Studies, University of Maryland. “We are truly in an era of holistic science and synergistic collaboration of microbiologists, geologists, oceanographers, computational scientists, social scientists, and health professionals, all working together to address a societal crisis, the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, and to make new, fundamental discoveries in the process, the applications of which will improve response to oil spills…an excellent example of science during crisis,” she added.

New knowledge and approaches focused on recent discoveries in genomics and bioinformatics, which are highlighted in the report,  will be critical to guiding mitigation and future restoration strategies. These new strategies will build on natural microbial bioremediation capabilities without further disturbing sensitive ecosystems.

“This report highlights the importance of multidisciplinary scientific partnerships and how researchers working across different areas of science can enable transformative discoveries,” said Brooks Hanson, AGU’s Executive Vice President of Science. “The scientific knowledge gained by this collaboration has far-reaching impacts that will help us study and respond to future environmental challenges, including extreme weather events and climate change.”

The American Society for Microbiology is one of the largest professional societies dedicated to the life sciences and is composed of 30,000 scientists and health practitioners. ASM's mission is to promote and advance the microbial sciences.
ASM advances the microbial sciences through conferences, publications, certifications and educational opportunities. It enhances laboratory capacity around the globe through training and resources. It provides a network for scientists in academia, industry and clinical settings. Additionally, ASM promotes a deeper understanding of the microbial sciences to diverse audiences.

Author: ASM Communications

ASM Communications
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