PSU student helps researchers in Texas make discovery about the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill
Author: University of Texas Marine Science Institute and Chelsea Bailey, PSU College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Posted: May 19, 2016

Portland State University senior John Donaho worked alongside microbiologists at the University of Texas Marine Science Institute (UTMSI) last summer, as a participant in the National Science Foundation’s Research Experience for Undergraduate program. As a result of his research, Donaho is now co-author of a new study published in Nature Microbiology, describing their discovery of how bacteria have eaten oil from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil spill (also known as the “BP Oil Spill”).

The discovery helps scientists pinpoint the pathways that native Gulf of Mexico bacteria use to break up the oil. It may also lead to human emergency responses that are more “bacteria-friendly,” and could potentially provide solutions to creating oil dispersants that are more susceptible to breakdown by bacteria after they have done their job. 

“It seems unreal. Science is relatively new to me and in less than two months, I was able to contribute to a discovery that is shaping the way we think about bacteria,” said Donaho. 

Now, Donaho is finishing up his undergraduate degree in Biology at PSU and contributing to research on extremophiles—organisms that thrive in extreme environments—in the lab of Dr. Anna-Louise Reysenbach, microbiologist and PSU professor of biology. After graduation, Donaho plans to pursue a graduate degree in microbiology.

“I’m grateful for the incredible mentors and research opportunities I’ve had at UTMSI and PSU. They’ve helped me find the path toward a research career.” 

Photo credits: John Donaho (top); Andreas Teske, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill (oil spill)