• May 14, 2007
You know about the Rancho La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles right? I am sure that you have heard of them, if not seen them before in movies. Basically, what they are is a big much of petroleum and asphalt mixed with dirt and the like. Here is the wiki explanation: "The La Brea Tar Pits (or Rancho La Brea Tar Pits) are a famous cluster of tar pits located in Hancock Park in the urban heart of Los Angeles, California, USA. Asphalt (colloquially termed tar) has seeped up from the ground in this area for tens of thousands of years, forming hundreds of sticky pools that trapped animals and plants which happened to enter. Over time, the asphalt fossilized the remains. The result is an incredibly rich collection of fossils dating from the last ice age."

Alrighty then, why do we care? Easy: Scientists at UC Riverside have found living bacteria there which is capable of breaking down the petroleum deposits. Even in that harsh environment, live organisms have been found... which is pretty amazing by itself. Here is a quote from Jong-Shik Kim (on the left), a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Environmental Sciences, "We were surprised to find these bacteria because asphalt is an extreme and hostile environment for life to survive. It's clear, however, that these living organisms can survive in heavy oil mixtures containing many highly toxic chemicals. Moreover, these bacteria survive with no water and little or no oxygen."

According to the source article, "The bacteria and their enzymes have potential application for bioremediation (cleaning oil spills), medical treatments (new medicines), alternative energy (biofuels), enhanced oil recovery, and industrial applications (biochemicals and biotechnology)."

[Source: UC Riverside]


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