Following the Horizon Well oil spill into the Gulf of Mexico that occurred in 2010, Dillard University proposes a RAPID project for students and faculty to participate in the sampling and biomarker analysis of air, water, and sediments from oil-impacted shoreline and from pristine shorelines under various meteorological conditions. Sampling will be conducted to assess the effects of weathering as well as seasonal changes in surface temperature. Archival samples will be collected and analyzed on bioarerosal culturing assays, by quantitative microscopy, by testing of the genotoxic effect of the particulate matter. Airborne particulate matter will be analyzed for its total carbon content and it total biological load (carbohydrate, protein, phospholipid, and DNA). The project will seek to assess the effect that weathering hydrocarbons and dispersants from the oil spill will have on increasing the numbers of particles which can penetrate the human respiratory system and the toxicity potential that those particles will carry over aerosols generated in their pristine counterparts.

Project Report

Intellectual Merit/Broader Reaching Impact: The British Petroleum Oil Spill on April 20, 2010 was the largest in U.S. history. Millions of gallons of oil were released from the Gulf of Mexico's floor near the Louisiana shoreline. As a result of this disaster the coastal states were negatively impacted, the economy lost billions of dollars, thousands of marine species affected, and damaging thousands of miles of coastal ecology. Over the past three years, ecological damages are still evident today. There is currently no basis to determine the long term ecological damages of the Gulf, its shorelines, and inter-coastal waters. The oil and the dispersants used to help cleanup seem to both have an adverse effect on the water, terrestrial, and atmospheric environment on the Gulf Coast and other parts of Louisiana. Microbial populations in the water and sediment are expected to change in response to weathering oil carbon as will the airborne particulate matter near the oil landfalls. Many researchers had documented the partitioning of petroleum fractions into the atmosphere from ocean surfaces, including their combustion products after burning surface oil. While gas phase hydro-carbons and surfactants have received much attention following oil spils, the engineering community had largely ignored the microbiological aerosols generated in oil impacted marine environments. Microbes and/or component parts have not been investigated in the atmospheric environment near weathering oil spills. And the liberation of microbes from oil polluted water and sand had not been studied. The effects of marine weathering from meterological energy inputs (Sun, Wind, Wave Actions, etc.) have on hte aerobiology of these environments are unknown. The participants in this Project included: from Dillard University, the PI, Dr. Bernard Singleton and his 11 Undergraduate Researchers, 3-High School Researchers, and a Dillard Post-Bac, and from the University of Colorado Boulder, Co-PI, Dr. Mark Hernandez and his 2 Post-Doc's and a Ph.D. Candidate. The broader reaching impacts emanate from maximizing an educational partnership between the Environmental Engineering Department at the University of Colorado and Dillard, a 147 year old established Historically Black University in New Orleans, LA. This Project enhanced Dillard's educational infrastructure and helped teach the latest protocols for biomarker assessment to Underrepresented Under-graduate and High School students. All the students learned how to collect bioaerosol samples by two methods, filtration and impingers. They also learned genetic/genotoxic/biochemical charaterization of those samples collected. The students had the opportunity to learn how disasters affect our environment (human health, the ecosystem, the economy) and what can be done about them. The Singleton and Hernandez groups have trained and worked together in the field and each other's laboratories for over seven years. The sample collection sites were Grand Isle, Port Fourchon, Elmer's Island, and on the coast of Texas. The umuC genotoxicity assay was used to assess the toxic levels of the samples in the area of the Oil Spill along the Louisiana coastline. DNA and Fatty acid profile analyses were used to determine the microbiological community. All the Louisiana samples showed levels of genotixicity. The predominant microorganisms found in the air samples were Lysinibacillus sphaericus, toxic to mosquito larvae, Micro-coccus luteus, has the ability to utilize a wide range of potentially toxic substrates such as crude oil and petroleum by-products-its also can be involved in detoxification or biodegradation of a number of environmental pollutants and is an opportunistic pathogen and Staphylococcus epidermidis, an opportunistic pathogen, predominantly colonizes the mucous membranes, groin, axillar areas, and other parts of the skin. The water samples carried Shewanella putrefaciens, associated with septicemia and skin infections and Bacillus cereus, causes opportunistic infections and is associate with endophthalmitis. As expected there are a number of microbes that can be found in the Gulf, some can be beneficial and others potentially threatening. The Oil Spill likely changed the balance of the numbers and ratios of anyone or all of the microbes present in that ecosystem. The Project helped lay the foundation for ecological and epidemiological study of oil spill impacted regions and future similar disasters. Student participation encouraged underrepresented individuals to present and publish data from this study as well as pursue a career in the Environmental Sciences. The Project has afforded the Dillard University Faculty, Undergraduates, and High School students, the opportunity to gain knowledge concerning the efffects of a historically large oil spill in our environment. the research ex-perience, collaboration, and education were invaluable to under-represented students at both the undergraduate and high school levels. Learning to use the new equipment purchased by this grant enhanced the research and teaching laboratory experience. The students learned how to develop collaborative relationships, develop and execute a scientific project to learn about and resolve societal problems. The results of this Project have been reported and won awards by Dillard researchers at the DU-LAMP, DU-Undergraduate Research local, ERN, and ABRCMS National Scientific Conferences, 2011, 2012, 2013.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Human Resource Development (HRD)
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Claudia M. Rankins
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Dillard University
New Orleans
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