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Fracking research at EMSL named a top 100 story of 2016

Discover Magazine's year in science issue ranks fracking story #90 EMSL scientist David Hoyt shares his reactions to being part of a study Discover Magazine ranks one of the top 100 science stories of 2016.

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Discover Magazine's year in science issue ranked its "Digging Deep for New Bacteria" article among the top 100 science stories of 2016.

Associate Editor Eric Betz wrote the story based on a study of microbial communities in fracking wells led by Kelly Wrighton and colleagues at The Ohio State University. The research team included scientists at EMSL, the DOE Joint Genome Institute and the University of Maine, and used capabilities at both EMSL and DOE JGI.

NMR sample holders
EMSL has unique NMR sample holders to study C. Frackibacter and other isolates in simulated fracking fluids. On the left is a normal NMR sample tube. On the right is a high-pressure NMR sample cell modified to observe metabolites under high salt and pressure conditions.   

"I was completely surprised when I heard Discover Magazine was picking up our research," says EMSL senior scientist David Hoyt, a member of the project team. "I could have worked my whole career and never thought my research would be picked up by Discover Magazine. How do you predict that? As a scientist, you want your research to have impact and of be of interest to others, but this research had something additional."

The energy industry uses hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to extract natural gas by injecting hydraulic fluids deep into shale formations. Colonies of microbes live in the fracking wells under extreme conditions – high temperatures, pressures and salinity. Scientists do not fully understand the function and activity of these microorganisms.

The study, published in Nature Microbiology, analyzed samples from hydraulically fractured wells in Pennsylvania and Ohio. The scientists found and characterized 31 microbial species; including one previously unknown bacterium, they named Candidatus Frackibacter. The team discovered microbial communities are able to adapt and thrive in hostile environment created by fracking.

Samples of fracking liquids
Samples of microbe-rich fluid collected from fracking wells. (Courtesy of Rebecca Daly / Ohio State University.)

"We were able to identify and profile what microbes existed in the wells, including which ones were dominant and which ones were novel," says Hoyt, a biochemist. "Because we identified novel microbes and we learned a little bit about their fundamental metabolisms definitely helped contribute to Discover Magazine picking up our research."

Discover Magazine describes itself as the leading science magazine aimed at the general public.

Read related EMSL science highlight – Hydraulic Fluids Hospitable for Microbes.

Read related EMSL science highlight – Geologic CO2 Sequestration Inhibits Microbial Growth

Read related Pacific Northwest National Laboratory news release.