Microbial Genomics of the Global Ocean System

Document Type

Task Force Report

Publication Date



Water, Environmental Microbiology, Ecology, Evolution, Genetics, Genomics, Molecular Microbiology


The year 2020 marks the 10th anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) disaster. From April through July 2010, an estimated total of 4.9 million barrels of oil and 250,000 metric tonnes of natural gas were discharged into the Gulf of Mexico. Not only were eleven lives lost, but the tragedy also left a lasting impact on the Gulf’s marine and coastal ecosystems and on the residents who depend on these habitats for their livelihood. After the oil spill, the Gulf of Mexico’s microbial communities played a critical role in the cleanup, contributing core hydrocarbon bioremediation services. Despite its importance, marine hydrocarbon microbiology is a young field. Prior to the spill relatively little was known about marine hydrocarbon degraders.

Beginning in 2010, the development and application of genomics and bioinformatics tools enabled researchers- for the first time- to identify and examine individual microorganisms within their complex communities in unprecedented detail. Today, technical advances and new discoveries reveal a natural capacity of microbes in the Gulf of Mexico to catalyze bioremediation of petroleum hydrocarbons. This knowledge is critical to guide mitigation and restoration strategies that build on microbes’ natural bioremediation capabilities without further disturbing sensitive ecosystems.

This report is based on the deliberations of experts who participated in the joint colloquium of the American Academy of Microbiology, ASM’s honorific leadership group, the American Geophysical Union (AGU), and Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) in April 2019. The report highlights new research tools, methodology, data resources, collaborations, and models that will advance basic and applied research to provide data-driven solutions to environmental challenges.

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Citation / Publisher Attribution

2020 Microbial Genomics of the Global Ocean System, Joint Colloquium, 53 p.