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Scientists Discover New Genus of Bacteria Unique to Fracking Sites

Sep 06, 2016 05:01 AM EDT

A new study from the Ohio State University revealed a never-before-seen genus of bacteria believed to be unique in shale oil and gas wells made by hydraulic fracturing.

The study, published in the journal Nature Microbiology, showed that the new genus is one of the 31 microbial members found in two separate fracking sites. Despite the great distance between the wells and different shale formations, the researchers were able to find almost similar microbial communities in the two sites.

"We think that the microbes in each well may form a self-sustaining ecosystem where they provide their own food sources," explained Kelly Wrighton, assistant professor of microbiology and biophysics at Ohio State, in a press release. "Drilling the well and pumping in fracturing fluid creates the ecosystem, but the microbes adapt to their new environment in a way to sustain the system over long periods."

Most of the organisms found in the two wells is believed to be come from the surface ponds being drawn to fill the wells. The researchers also noted the possibility that the organisms they found in the wells are already living in the shale deposits even before the fracking operations began.

The new genus of bacteria, dubbed as Candidatus Frackibacter, was named as a play of words in the owrd fracking. Scientists use the term Candidatus to classify new organism that is being studied for the first time using genomic approach, not an isolated culture from the lab.

If the Frackibacter bacteria are living in the well before fracking operations began, it needs to be highly tolerant of high temperatures, pressure and especially salinity. High salinity levels in the fracking sites could force microbes synthesize organic compounds called osmoprotectants to avoid bursting.

Researchers believe that when the microbes die, they release osmoprotectants that could be synthesize and eaten once again by other microbes.

When the Frackibacter bacteria eat osmoprotectants, it produces methanogen that serves as food for other microbes. These ultimately lead to the production of methane.

Their findings showed that fracking sites could harbor microbial life that could lead to higher production of biogenic methane in the future, even if methanes produced by the microbe is in miniscule amount.

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