Apparently not put off by the warning from “Jurassic Park,” scientists have been teasing us with the possibility of reintroducing extinct species for some time. For the meantime, it seems like the bacteria they find on these ancient beasts might be of more interest than the animals themselves.
Russian scientists discovered that bacteria found on carcasses of woolly rhinos, ancient cave lions and the surrounding permafrost soils could help break down petroleum, with a potential to be used to clear up environmental disasters such as oil spills.
The hydrocarbon-oxidizing bacteria have only survived the path of time by being maintained in the sub-zero temperatures.
The project is being led by Larisa Yerofeevskaya, a research fellow from the Institute of Oil and Gas Problems in Yakutsk. Speaking to The Siberian Times, she said, “After 24-to-72 hours the decomposition of oil begins. It turns to strands or granules. Even oily slicks disappear. What remains are protein, water and carbon dioxide, which evaporates.
“From the woolly rhinoceros, we have already identified one microorganism that destroys cellulose and a hydrocarbon oxidizing bacteria. From cave lions, we identified a very large number of bacteria, but so far four strains, all hydrocarbon oxidizing.”
She went onto say they found some of the bacteria in the mouths of lion cubs and others in their anus.
Currently, oil spills are dealt with using dispersants. As the 2010 Shell Oil oil leak proved, these chemicals are often as toxic as the fuel itself, causing an extraordinary amount of damage to surrounding ecosystems.
Although, reintroducing ancient bacteria is not without its dangers, Yerofeevskaya is confident in the possibility of prehistoric bacteria being used to tackle not only oil spills, but other environmental hazards like landfills.