Gulf of Mexico

Oil Degrading Bacteria from the BP Deepwater horizon oil spill

Trench dug to reveal oil transect on Pensacola Beach in the Gulf of Mexico
sp. Alcanivorax actively growing on oil contaminated artificial seawater media

Studying Oil Degraders

Microbes are the great decomposers of marine ecosystems, acting to breakdown natural organic matter and to release nutrients that can then be used by plants. Similar to the breakdown of natural organic matter, biodegradation mediated by microbes is the ultimate fate of the majority of spilled oil that enters the marine environment. The Kostka lab studies how fast and what controls the microbial degradation of oil in order to direct the management and cleanup of contaminated ecosystems. We also seek to identify key microbial groups that can be used as sentinels or bioindicators of oil contamination.


During response to the Deepwater Horizon discharge, scientists directed emergency responders by using oil plume models to predict where the oil would go. Microbial degradation of the oil is not included in most of these models, even though we know that a lot of the oil will be eaten by microbes. We have measured rates of biodegradation (how fast oil was degraded) in deep waters and sediments in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Thus, if there was an oil spill today, we could better predict where oil would go, since the model could include our measurements of the speed of biodegradation under different oceanographic conditions (different nutrient levels, for example).

During response to the Deepwater Horizon discharge, scientists directed emergency responders by using oil plume models to predict where the oil would go. Microbial degradation of the oil is not included in most of these models, even though we know that a lot of the oil will be eaten by microbes. We have measured rates of biodegradation (how fast oil was degraded) in deep waters and sediments in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Thus, if there was an oil spill today, we could better predict where oil would go, since the model could include our measurements of the speed of biodegradation under different oceanographic conditions (different nutrient levels, for example).





From the Kostka Lab:


Collaborators:







Recent Publications:

Brooks, G. R., Larson, R. A., Schwing, P. T., Romero, I., Moore, C., Reichart, G-J., Jilbert, T., Chanton, J.P., Hastings, D.W, Overholt, W.A., Marks, K.P., Kostka, J.E., Holmes, C.W., Hollander, D. 2015. Sedimentation Pulse in the NE Gulf of Mexico Following the 2010 DWH Blowout. PLOS One (in press).

Rodriguez-R, L.M., W.A. Overholt, C. Hagan, M. Huettel, J. E Kostka, and K.T. Konstantinidis. 2015. Microbial community successional patterns in beach sands impacted by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. ISME Journal doi: 10.1038/ismej.2015.5

Kostka, J.E., A.P.Teske, S. B. Joye and Ian M. Head. 2014. The metabolic pathways and environmental controls of hydrocarbon biodegradation in marine ecosystems. Frontiers in Microbiology 5: 471. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2014.00471

Joye, S.B, A.P. Teske, and J.E. Kostka. 2014. Microbial Dynamics Following the Macondo Oil Well Blowout across Gulf of Mexico Environments. BioScience. 64 (9): 766-777. doi: 10.1093/biosci/biu121

Ruddy B.M., M. Huettel, J.E. Kostka, V.V. Lobodin, B.J. Bythell, A. M. McKenna, C. Aeppli, C.M. Reddy, R. K. Nelson, A. G. Marshall, and R. P. Rodgers. 2014. Targeted Petroleomics: Analytical Investigation of Macondo Well Oil Oxidation Products from Pensacola Beach. Energy Fuels 28: 4043-4050

W. A. Overholt, S. J. Green, K. P. Marks, R. Venkatramanan, O. Prakash, and J. E. Kostka. 2013. Draft Genome Sequences for Oil-Degrading Bacterial Strains from Beach Sands Impacted by the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. Genome Announcements doi: 10.1128/genomeA.01015-13 Genome Announc. 1: e01015-13.

Joel E. Kostka, Om Prakash, Will A. Overholt, Stefan J. Green, Gina Freyer, Andy Canion, Jonathan Delgardio, Nikita Norton, Terry C. Hazen and Markus Huettel. 2011. Hydrocarbon-Degrading Bacteria and the Bacterial Community Response in Gulf of Mexico Beach Sands Impacted by the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. Applied and Environmental Microbiology 77: 7962-7974.