A2: Microbes in the News

Title:  The DNA of oil wells: U.S. shale enlists genetics to boost output

Date:  March 28, 2017

Authors: Ernest Scheyder, Reuters

Source:  Alaska Dispach News

Link:  https://www.adn.com/nation-world/2017/03/28/the-dna-of-oil-wells-u-s-shale-enlists-genetics-to-boost-output/

Summary: A company called Biota Technology is useing “DNA Science” to more efficiently extract oil from natoriously expensive shale oil deposits. This is done by taking a sample as the oil just starts flowing, sequence the DNA, analyse the data and compile it for furture oil exploration. The exact methods of extraction, sequencing or analysis is not specifically covored in this article.

Connection:  This company uses DNA sequencing and Analysis most likely similar to the techniques we used and learned about in class. They need to extract a microbial populations DNA before, during and after a well is drilled to detect the changing microbial population of the oil.

Critical Analysis: I found this article interesting, not only because of Alaskas oil industry, but also for the study of oil microbe populations and as they change both over time and as the oil is drained from the surrounding rock. Some of these communities are potentially thousands of years old, and we could learn a lot from thir ancient DNA and lifestyles. It was interesting that the article used the term “DNA Science” regarding DNA extracting and sequencing, my only reasoning for them using it is to make it should more “sciency” without confusing people too much.

Question: My question is; can a method like this potentially be used to estimate an areas risk of groundwater contamination from oil exploration and fracking?

1 Comment for “A2: Microbes in the News”

Amanda Jean Garner


I think it’s interesting that the author of this article refers to DNA sequencing and analysis as “DNA science” too. I am also curious as to what the exact techniques are regarding the extraction and sequencing, but understand why the article doesn’t delve into that.
I think you pose a great question. If we can use microbes to predict better well spots, why couldn’t we also use microbes as predictors for contamination?
I couldn’t find much research to definitively answer your question, as this appears to be a relatively new idea, but I would think there’s a way to use this information put together a list of risk factors, depending on which microbial populations were present before and during drilling, and comparing that data with which fracking sites lead to contaminated groundwater, especially since scientists have identified several microbial communities consistent with groundwater contamination. Of course, this will require a lot more research and converting a lot of that data into information other people (like water quality managers) can use will take time. I think that’s a great question for everyone to consider though.