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BP Funds Metagenomics Research on Gulf Sponges, Microbes

By a GenomeWeb staff reporter

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The British oil company BP will fund genomics research conducted by Nova Southeastern University (NSU) that will explore the effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on microbes and sponges in the Gulf of Mexico.

The university, based in Dania Beach, Fla., will use part of a $10 million block grant from BP to fund several studies of the oil spill’s impact on marine life, including using DNA and microbial analysis to measure the spill’s marine sponge and microbe communities, assess deep sea life and bottom feeders, evaluate possible changes in the feeding habits of offshore fish communities, and analze coral-sponge communities off the West Florida shelf.

“Actions taken to abate the April 20 oil spill, such as using chemical dispersants to break down the oil, may have effectively submerged or dispersed the oil into Gulf of Mexico waters,” Associate Professor Jose Lopez at NSU’s Oceanographic Center said in a statement.

“Therefore, filter feeding sponges can possibly behave as good barometers to detect the oil’s impact on marine environments over time,” added Lopez, who is leading a research project into sponges and microbes.

Lopez told GenomeWeb Daily News in an e-mail that the Florida Institute of Oceanography, a consortium of around 20 educational institutions around the state, is currently working out the budgets for the grants but the guideline will be for most grants to be around $200,000.

He said that the research he will lead will specifically involve genomic and metagenomic analyses of sponges and their microbial communities.

“We are making concerted efforts to better understand potential and actual impacts to our economically and biologically valuable marine ecosystems, such that we can be better prepared when spills reoccur,” added Richard Dodge, the NSU’s Oceanographic Center Dean and Executive Director of NSU’s National Coral Reef Institute, in a statement.

A new related study appearing in Science states that the microbial communities in the Gulf of Mexico have already experienced changes due to the spill. An underwater plume of oil has been consumed by a newly discovered species of marine microbe. According to the study, these proteobacteria have adapted to the deep cold water where the BP plume was located and have biodegraded much of the hydrocarbons in it without significantly depleting the oxygen in the water.

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