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Using dispersants after oil spills: impacts on the composition and activity of microbial communities


Dispersants are globally and routinely applied as an emergency response to oil spills in marine ecosystems with the goal of chemically enhancing the dissolution of oil into water, which is assumed to stimulate microbially mediated oil biodegradation. However, little is known about how dispersants affect the composition of microbial communities or their biodegradation activities. The published findings are controversial, probably owing to variations in laboratory methods, the selected model organisms and the chemistry of different dispersant–oil mixtures. Here, we argue that an in-depth assessment of the impacts of dispersants on microorganisms is needed to evaluate the planning and use of dispersants during future responses to oil spills.

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Figure 1: Dispersants and their interaction with oil in sea water.
Figure 2: Hydrocarbon degradation following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.


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The authors acknowledge the BP/Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) for supporting the ECOGIG (Ecosystem Impacts of Oil and Gas Inputs to the Gulf; to S.B.J.) and C-IMAGE (Center for Integrated Modeling and Analysis of Gulf Ecosystems; to J.H.P) consortia. Additional support from the Guy Harvey Ocean Research Foundation (to J.H.P.) is also appreciated. This paper is ECOGIG contribution number 204.

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Kleindienst, S., Paul, J. & Joye, S. Using dispersants after oil spills: impacts on the composition and activity of microbial communities. Nat Rev Microbiol 13, 388–396 (2015).

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