The WDSU report notes the risk of infection by the flesh-eating bacteria Vibrio vulnificus increases if the liver is impaired from alcohol use, which is on the rise around the Gulf since the oil disaster.
The National Science Foundation awarded a rapid response grant to research how the oil disaster may "change" Vibrio vulnificus. From the NSF website on June 21, 2010:
How are the oysters faring with the oil spill? The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded a rapid response grant to scientists Crystal Johnson, Gary King and Ed Laws of Louisiana State University (LSU) to find out.
The researchers will look at how the abundance and virulence of naturally-occurring bacteria called Vibrio parahaemolyticus and Vibrio vulnificus, often found in oyster beds, may change in response to the spill.
The findings will provide insights into vibrios' ability to "consume" oil, and will allow the biologists to uncover antibiotic compounds in certain species of phytoplankton that live in association with vibrios.
"Adaptation to the spilled oil may result in an increase in some types of vibrios," says Johnson. "We believe that vibrios will change in response to the stress of direct exposure to oil and/or to indirect effects of interactions with other species affected by oil."
Vibrios... may even help break down the components of the oil.
"Little is known about how microbes--in the water, along coasts, and associated with other species--are affected by the spill," says Phillip Taylor, acting director of NSF's Ocean Sciences Division.
"Through this NSF rapid response grant, these scientists will be able to track the oil's effects on marine species living in the Gulf, and by extension, the possible threat to human health." ...
"Oil-induced changes in phytoplankton community composition and their associated bacterial communities are related to changes in vibrio abundance," he says. Some species of phytoplankton in Louisiana and Mississippi coastal waters may excrete antibiotics that inhibit the growth of vibrios, according to Laws.