This project leverages a set of samples obtained in March, 2010 prior to the DWH oil spill to determine the composition and structure of bacterial communities in the northern Gulf of Mexico. DNA extracts from bacterioplankton collected along nearshore to off-shore transects and from 2 m to 1700 m depth have been used in PCR amplifications of 16S rRNA genes. Amplification has used a bar-coding protocol to enable high throughput pyrosequencing, resulting in more than 220,000 reads over 44 distinct samples.
Data are being analyzed with PANGEA and Mothur platforms to assess and compare bacterioplankton composition across 17 stations, including a station near the Macondo Well site. Initial results show substantial vertical structure in bacterioplankton communities, with a notable increase of putative ammonia-oxidizing Thaumarchaeota with depth. Results also indicate a patchy, diverse, but readily detected community of putative hydrocarbon-oxidizing bacteria that likely contributed to the observed rapid degradation of Macondo Well hydrocarbons post-spill.