Influence of Crude Oil on Nitrosopumilus Maritimus and Nitrosococcus Oceani

Marine life consists of a large number of macro and micro organisms. Bacteria and archaea are examples of the microorganisms. The metabolism of these micro organisms and thus their survival are greatly dependent on the composition of the surrounding water. Nitrosococcus oceani is a bacterium while Nitrosopumilus maritimus is an archaebacterium. The oil spill of 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico greatly altered the composition of water in this region resulting in a change in the normal habitat of these organisms. The current paper seeks to show a response to the alteration of these two organisms which was different. Generally, Nitrosococcus oceani was affected more than Nitrosopumilus maritimus.

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A short while after the spill that occurred in May 2010, bacterial count in the plume water areas was noted to be significantly higher than one recorded in the non-plume areas. Despite this, the populations of individual bacteria were different with some higher and lower levels. The rapid response exhibited by the different bacteria groups was attributed to differential utilization of nutrients or hydrocarbons introduced by the oil spill. Nitrosococcus oceani had an increased population compared to those regions where the spill had not reached. Microarray based on the 16S ribosomal RNA and 16S rRNA gene based clone libraries were used in the identification of the dominant microbe. When a GeoChip microarray based on functional gene was done, it revealed the excess of 1600 genes that are involved in hydrocarbon degradation. Some of the hydrocarbons include alkanes, BTEX, PAHs, and cycloalkanes. Other genes that were also found to be greatly expressed by these organisms include those for carbon metabolism, assimilation of nitrogen, reduction of sulfate, release of phosphorus, bacteriophage multiplication, and metal resistance. It was also noted that these organisms had a higher expression of genes responsible for degradation of alkanes, especially cyclohexane. Genes responsible for nutrient uptake, chemotaxis, and motility were also expressed. These genes have enabled the cells from this group to colonize the area of the spill, feed on the spilled oil, and multiply.

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In contrast to the bacterial community, the archaeal community in these affected waters did not show significant deviation in population. Thus, it was suspected whether these organisms had any role in the degradation of the hydrocarbons found in oil. For instance, the ammonia nitrification and oxidation by Nitrosopumilus maritimus which belongs to Thaumarchaeota, marine group I, were only very slightly impaired. This has led to the suggestion that the sudden spill of oil hydrocarbons had no significant effect on the population of marine archaea.

Based on the metabolic mechanisms of these two organisms, Nitrosopumilus maritimus and Nitrosococcus oceani, the latter would be more suited for an environment with abundant hydrocarbons than the former. This is because Nitrosococcus oceani is able to break down hydrocarbons like alkanes from crude oil and can increase its capacity to metabolize them depending on their concentration in its environment due to its genetic endowment. This gives it an advantage since it can easily survive the toxicity of oil by breaking it down faster. On the other hand, Nitrosopumilus maritimus shows little change in its ability to metabolize hydrocarbons irrespective of the concentration. Thus, it is at a disadvantage in regions where there is a high concentration of hydrocarbons. It can not overcome the toxicity which means that many of the organisms will die. The expression of genes responsible for metabolism of ammonia in Nitrosopumilus maritimus does not show any increased expression even in regions where the concentration of hydrocarbons is high.

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Survival of microorganisms in regions where water has been contaminated with crude oil, which leads to increased concentration of hydrocarbons, is dependent on the ability of those organisms to metabolize the compounds. The organism which is able to breakdown the compounds, for instance, Nitrosococcus oceani stands a better chance of survival and multiplication compared to its counterpart Nitrosopumilus maritimus with a reduced capacity to utilize the hydrocarbons.

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