Asphalt-Eating Bacteria.

Scientists at the University of California, Riverside, discovered asphalt-munching bacteria trapped in the La Brea Tar Pit some 28,000 years ago.

"Asphalt is an extreme and hostile environment for life to survive," said Jong-Shik Kim, who initiated the study. But "these living organisms can survive in heavy oil mixtures containing many highly toxic chemicals" with no water and little oxygen, he said.

Bacteria that survive on petroleum produce methane gas as waste, so when Kim and his colleague Dave Crowley noticed the gas bubbling out of the oily soil, they knew they had found something unique.

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