Asphalt-Munching Bacteria Discovered
'Trapped in the Rancho La Brea tar pits 28,000 years ago, the bacteria are equipped with special enzymes that can break down petroleum, environmental scientists at the University of California, Riverside report in a recent issue of Applied and Environmental Microbiology.
The petroleum-dismantling enzymes could be used to clean up oil spills, create new medicines and manufacture biofuels, among other uses.
"Asphalt is an extreme and hostile environment for life to survive," said Jong-Shik Kim, who initiated the study. But "these living organisms can survive in heavy oil mixtures containing many highly toxic chemicals" with no water and little oxygen, he said.'