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Science

10-Centimeter Single-Celled Organisms Photographed 6 Miles Underwater 134

Posted by Soulskill
from the beware-the-leviathan dept.
New submitter roat35 tips news that researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography have used Dropcam — a relatively small, glass-walled device containing an HD camera — to make videos of lifeforms that exist in the Mariana Trench, more than six miles below the surface of the Pacific Ocean. One of the more interesting organisms at those depths is the Xenophyophore, a creature which, despite being single-celled, can grow to be over 10 centimeters wide. "Scientists say xenophyophores are the largest individual cells in existence. Recent studies indicate that by trapping particles from the water, xenophyophores can concentrate high levels of lead, uranium and mercury and are thus likely highly resistant to large doses of heavy metals. They also are well suited to a life of darkness, low temperature and high pressure in the deep sea."

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10-Centimeter Single-Celled Organisms Photographed 6 Miles Underwater

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  • Heavy metals? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Pharmboy (216950) on Monday October 24, 2011 @05:27PM (#37824324) Journal

    I can't be the only one thinking that an organism that is simple and can absorb heavy metals sounds almost too good to be true. Sounds like something that *could* be easy (in relative terms) to genetically modify for cleaning up toxic areas.

    Yes, I know, what could possibly go wrong...

    • by Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) on Monday October 24, 2011 @05:36PM (#37824422)

      I can't be the only one thinking that an organism that is simple and can absorb heavy metals sounds almost too good to be true. Sounds like something that *could* be easy (in relative terms) to genetically modify for cleaning up toxic areas.

      My neighbour's teenager absorbs great quantities of heavy metal every day (to the dismay of the entire neighborhood), doesn't seem to possess an IQ much higher than a single cell organism, lives in a toxic area he calls his "bedroom", and I can guarantee you no amount of genetic engineering is likely to convince him to clean it...

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Can you recall the exact moment you morphed into a caricature from an 80s comedy movie, or did it happen gradually?

        • by tehcyder (746570)

          Can you recall the exact moment you morphed into a caricature from an 80s comedy movie, or did it happen gradually?

          Can you remember the exact moment you forgot what a "joke" was?

      • by MrKaos (858439)

        I can't be the only one thinking that an organism that is simple and can absorb heavy metals sounds almost too good to be true. Sounds like something that *could* be easy (in relative terms) to genetically modify for cleaning up toxic areas.

        My neighbour's teenager absorbs great quantities of heavy metal every day (to the dismay of the entire neighborhood), doesn't seem to possess an IQ much higher than a single cell organism, lives in a toxic area he calls his "bedroom", and I can guarantee you no amount of genetic engineering is likely to convince him to clean it...

        What you don't seem to understand is that heavy metal music was written by people with very high IQ's as a way to hack young minds into annoying the shit out of people like yourself.

      • Funny that: "College students whose musical preferences are alternative, rock or heavy metal actually obtain higher IQ test scores on average, particularly on questions where abstraction is required (Walker & Kreiner, 2006)."
    • Re:Heavy metals? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by FishTankX (1539069) on Monday October 24, 2011 @05:38PM (#37824450)

      How would we go about genetically modifying it to not require 6 miles of water ontop of it?

      Generally deep sea stuff tends to explode once we bring it up due to pressure differential.

      • by Pharmboy (216950)

        Good point, for sure, but the real question is, does it require 6 miles, could it be cloned above water (we are talking single cell, and we have done sheep, dogs, etc.). The main thing that makes my ears perk up is the fact that it is such a simple organism, the odds of us being able to figure it out is much higher.

        Maybe not, but an interesting organism nonetheless, and at the least, there is something we can likely learn from it. I would bet some company somewhere is asking the same question. When the p

        • by RockDoctor (15477)
          Who said it's a "simple" organism?

          It's a single-celled organism, allegedly, but I don't necessarily see that as being the same as "simple". The biochemical complexity of some of the smallest of bacteria is still very high, while some of the largest of viruses (mimivirus et al), which one would expect to be "simple", have genomes considerably larger than some "complex" bacteria.

      • by robmv (855035) on Monday October 24, 2011 @06:09PM (#37824868)

        Easy, lets dump the contaminated material on the sea and call it food for Xenophyophores

      • The explodyness is just to simple issues of partial pressures of gas. Just an extreme case of the bends. All you need to do is drag the thing up very slowly - trap it in a cage, put cage on rope, wheel it up over the course of weeks. Still might not survive - it's biochemistry may have evolved to function properly only at very high pressures - but at least it won't explode.
        • Well, for vertebrates it is more complex than that. Those lipids that line your cells? The ones that have just the right viscosity at the pressure you live at? How do they behave at depth?

          How do lipids that are fluid enough to function within a single-celled organism at depth (>15,000 psi) behave when they are brought up to our measly ~14psi?

        • by pugugly (152978)

          Yes, but as the pressure gets lower, it necessarily get larger until you have

          The BLOB!!!

          Beware of The Blob, it creeps
          And leaps and glides and slides
          Across the floor
          Right through the door
          And all around the wall
          A splotch, a blotch
          Be careful of The Blob

          {G} - Pug

      • by Anne_Nonymous (313852) on Monday October 24, 2011 @07:09PM (#37825572) Homepage Journal

        >> How would we go about genetically modifying it to not require 6 miles of water ontop of it?

        We could mate it with a Giraffe. Those don't have to be underwater to live.

      • by Joce640k (829181)

        Generally deep sea stuff tends to explode once we bring it up due to pressure differential.

        Only if you bring it up quickly. There's no problem if you give the dissolved gases time to escape.

      • Re:Heavy metals? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by ByOhTek (1181381) on Tuesday October 25, 2011 @10:04AM (#37830928) Journal

        The pressure difference isn't such an issue, the pressure differential for a single celled organism should equalize fairly well - it likely won't explode/rupture.

        The temperatures will be an issue. Many chemical reactions may fail.

        Also, certain reactions may actually require the high pressure.

      • by RockDoctor (15477)

        Generally deep sea stuff tends to explode once we bring it up due to pressure differential.

        Equally, shallow-sea stuff (humans adapted to 0m +/-1.5m water depth) tends to collapse once taken to more than 10m depth if compressed rapidly enough and to leak bodily fluids if taken rapidly to high altitudes.

        Almost everything doesn't like rapid pressure changes. Many organisms however can withstand considerable changes of pressure over a fair duration.

        Actually, I can extend that to inorganic materials too : stan

    • by nomel (244635)

      Removal and disposal of the now, toxic, organisms is the problem...

      They do this with the common water hyacinth. It's great for cleaning up heavy metals and many chemicals, but then you have many thousands of lbs of heavy, wet, plants to remove and do something with before they eventually die, decompose, and release everything back into the water.

      • Re:Heavy metals? (Score:5, Informative)

        by bennomatic (691188) on Monday October 24, 2011 @06:11PM (#37824910) Homepage
        No, you missed the best part: its waste product is 50% pure gold, 50% unicorn rainbow.
      • Monsanto has genetically engineered several of its seeds to be resistant to Roundup. Maybe Monsanto could ask some its folks to adapt hyacinth to make some kind of container like a gourd or coconut? Object would be to have the plant store its gathered heavy metals in there, then harvest the stuff maybe wearing a Bio-Suit? Because that stuff will be nastier than nasty.
        • by funkboy (71672) on Monday October 24, 2011 @07:06PM (#37825530) Homepage

          Maybe Monsanto could ask some its folks to adapt hyacinth to make some kind of container like a gourd or coconut? Object would be to have the plant store its gathered heavy metals in there, then harvest the stuff maybe wearing a Bio-Suit?

          Maybe we could just have Monsanto executives eat the heavy metals directly & save the rest of the world a lot of trouble...

        • Maybe it would be cool to have the gourds or coconuts break off after absorbing the toxins, and then float to the surface. They could be harvested more easily...maybe.

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        This is relatively easy to solve, though. You put them in a bio-bag and get methane out. The heavy metals accumulate at the bottom. Or you can grind them up and use AIWPS to turn them into methane and algae.

    • Re:Heavy metals? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by robotkid (681905) <alanc2052@NOSPAM.yahoo.com> on Monday October 24, 2011 @06:02PM (#37824790)

      I can't be the only one thinking that an organism that is simple and can absorb heavy metals sounds almost too good to be true. Sounds like something that *could* be easy (in relative terms) to genetically modify for cleaning up toxic areas.

      Yes, I know, what could possibly go wrong...

      There are actually lots of microbes that metabolize and break down toxic wastes. Typically they are found simply by digging into a pile of hazardous waste and seeing what is growing there. The problem is that these organisms don't have to be particularly fast or efficient to defend their niche, they just need to survive where other's can't, so in their natural state they will not make a significant difference on the timescales convenient to us (i.e. a 1,000 year cleanup). So we need to at least understand enough to genetically engineer a yugo into a porche, and that isn't exactly easy.

      The second catch here is that deep sea life also typically has extremely slow metabolisms to begin with compared to terrestrial organisms. You can't spend energy faster than you take it in, and that's very slow indeed on the ocean floor. Fish down there are adapted to months inbetween feedings and can live for many decades, I can only imagine how slowly these 10 cm blobs eat and reproduce.

      • by bckrispi (725257)

        The solution to this is simple. In fact, people have been doing it for thousands of years: selective breeding. Take your landfill bacteria sample. Break it up into groups, and give each group some toxins to nosh on. The group that performs best gets cultured and split up again. All others get culled. Repeat. This technique was already proven in a 16 year old's science project. [mnn.com]

        • by robotkid (681905)

          The solution to this is simple. In fact, people have been doing it for thousands of years: selective breeding. Take your landfill bacteria sample. Break it up into groups, and give each group some toxins to nosh on. The group that performs best gets cultured and split up again. All others get culled. Repeat. This technique was already proven in a 16 year old's science project. [mnn.com]

          Yes, that would be the standard operating procedure for an organism with a rapid generation time (20 minutes for e. coli) and culturable in a lab (so you can control the nutrient conditions and do your selective breeding). I can't find any information on the generation time of Xenophyophores, in fact it may not be known, but I would be shocked if it was quicker than months to years per generation. And something that only lives on the sea floor is probably the hardest conditions I can think of (until alien

    • Well, sort of. Suppose we spill a bunch of mercury all over the ground because we were using it to make bleach for paper and then went out of business and walked away from our factory leaving a few tens of metric tons of raw mercury in vats that corroded through. We bring in a bunch of little critters -- they don't have to be ten centimeters long or single celled, acutually -- that gobble up all of that ugly toxic mercury.

      So, now what? You have just as much mercury as before. Only now it is in lots o
  • Largest single cells (Score:5, Interesting)

    by DanTheStone (1212500) on Monday October 24, 2011 @05:28PM (#37824340)
    What about ostrich eggs?
    • by pecosdave (536896) *

      Came here to say this, not sure if an egg properly qualifies as an organism.

      • Came here to say this, not sure if an egg properly qualifies as an organism.

        Ostrich egg+sperm immediately after fertilization.
        (Still doesn't count, because the organisms typical life cycle does not have it staying as a single cell.)

        • by Eskarel (565631)

          It also doesn't count because the ostrich egg, like any other bird egg, contains, but is not, the egg which turns into an embryo. The vast majority of that egg is a food dump for the chick.

      • by cashman73 (855518)
        An ostrich egg does classify as a cell, be it in the haploid (unfertilized) or diploid (fertilized) state. If fertilized, it is also a developing organism. So yes, it qualifies. Not sure if an ostrich egg is 10 cm or not, but I suspect it's pretty close,...
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by rish87 (2460742)
      An egg is not one giant cell. The actual cell, the ovum, is as tiny as your own (roughly speaking). What you see of the egg is the yolk and albumin which are there to feed the embryo as it goes.
    • An ostrich egg is 13-15 centimeters [wikipedia.org] and is considered a cell; however, I think the scientists here are referring to this species being the largest single-celled organism. The ostrich egg isn't an organism and, IMO, doesn't qualify as life since it doesn't consume energy, reproduce, etc, but simply provides and environment for the multicelluar life to grow within it. It is definitely a single-cell, however, and so the article is technically inaccurate in its verbiage.

    • by dissy (172727)

      What about ostrich eggs?

      The single-cell "egg" (zygote? that doesn't sound like the right term...) inside that egg is still microscopic and can't be seen with the unaided eye. No where near 1 mm, let alone 1 or 10 cm.

      The rest of the stuff making up the egg (shell, yolk-food, and other fluids), is more than one cell.

      • by assantisz (881107) on Monday October 24, 2011 @08:20PM (#37826312)
        Technically, the yolk is part of the "egg cell". The white and everything else within (besides the yolk) and including the shell is not. The only thing that is special about the yolk is that it does not partake in cell division if the egg is fertilized. There are no other cells within an egg. The white and the shell are not made from cells. All that said, I doubt, though, that the yolk of an ostrich egg is bigger than 20cm.
        • If there are no other cells in the egg, and the yolk doesn't partake in cell division, what does? Obviously some cells in there are dividing in order for a chick to develop.

    • by stjobe (78285)

      An ostrich egg isn't an organism. The title goes to the Caulerpa [wikipedia.org], a kind of seaweed whose single cell can grow up to a meter in length.

      • by Anonymous Coward
        Pfft, I have cells a meter long.
      • Of course, many fungi are multi-nucleic, and form connections between the cells, essentially turning the entire thing into a single cell. And fungi can be huge.
        • by Sique (173459)

          Slime Mold is more interesting as during their development there are moments when the whole slime mold is a single cell, but with thousands of nuclei, which stretches the concept of a cell to its boundaries.

    • by schizz69 (1239560)
      They are not diploid organisms, they are an haploid egg.
  • by newcastlejon (1483695) on Monday October 24, 2011 @05:31PM (#37824364)
    Please?
  • We must find a way to neutralise the xenophyophores resistance to heavy metal before it can do to us what it did to the Intrepid. Quickly, slingshot George Carlin around the sun so he can find us William S. Preston and Theodore Logan!
  • You guys have read the Illuminatus! trilogy, right?

  • If they can pass through a plume of silver ions unscathed, I'll be impressed - not that I'm not already.
  • by jeorgen (84395) on Monday October 24, 2011 @05:44PM (#37824530)
    It's good to see Slashdot use the metric system, in this case centimeters, to describe the size of the animal, but it gets a bit confusing when it is combined with giving the depth it is found at in miles.
    • Fair point, but I'm just pleased they didn't use fathoms. What are they, four and seven eights hogsheads?

    • by qwak23 (1862090)

      Quite frankly I prefer crafting my own custom units to fit the situation. They are typically 1 xenophophum wide, and typically found at a depth of 1 xenophyohom.

      I can provide definitions, dimensions, and conversion factors if anyone needs them.

  • "They also are well suited to a life of darkness, low temperature and high pressure in the deep sea."

    Oh yes? Well... they better should be suited for that if they live in the Mariana Trench!!

    D'oh!

    • by epine (68316)

      Oh yes? Well... they better should be suited for that if they live in the Mariana Trench!!

      Sheesh. And I thought they'd be well suited to sun bathing and the vacuum of space. Nature is one huge surprise after another.

      Trying to come up with a rigorous definition of well adapted blows my mind. Although I can recall some classmates who were better adapted to junior high school that I was or aspired to be; perhaps "well adapted" hints at sad and pathetic when encountered later in life.

    • by lennier (44736)

      "They also are well suited to a life of darkness, low temperature and high pressure in the deep sea."

      Oh yes? Well... they better should be suited for that if they live in the Mariana Trench!!

      D'oh!

      No no, you misunderstand. They're literally suited for it... by wearing tiny little pressure suits.

  • by syntheticmemory (1232092) on Monday October 24, 2011 @06:05PM (#37824812)
    Could just be the next new item for celebrity chefs and sushi restaurants.
    • by jnaujok (804613)
      Given that they use a polysaccharide secretion to bind various debris and their own fecal matter into their skin/shells/whatever --- I'm guessing they really can accurately be said to taste like sh*t....
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 24, 2011 @06:09PM (#37824864)

    It doesn't surprise me all that much that the fattest single-celled organism on the planet lives in the deepest, darkest place on Earth and is a fan of heavy metal.

  • Did they develop this as a defense mechanism against predators, who presumably aren't immune to their toxic cell plasma? Also, the cell membrane must be pretty thick? (or my intuitive understanding of the effect of pressure on things at that depth pretty lousy.)
    • by sFurbo (1361249)
      I don't think the pressure really affects the thickness of cell membrane needed, the pressure within the cell is the same as the pressure outside the cell, so the cell membrane doesn't have to withstand any pressure. It does affect which lipids to use in the cell membrane, they need to be liquid (for a quite weird definition of liquid), and the melting points will be higher ion the high-pressure environment.
    • by ScentCone (795499)
      Really? You're so obsessed with him that despite everything else going on the world, and billions of poeple about whom you could make some joke, you see a story like this, and the first thing you do is go digging through your one-track, Bush-hatred mind and give this a go? Really?

      You can relax. He's not running for president. The guy who thinks there are such things as transcontinental railroads, 57 US states, and similar things (which, if W had said them, would have sent you into a shuddering orgasm of
  • by wierd_w (1375923) on Monday October 24, 2011 @06:20PM (#37825024)

    These are giant amoebas! I think HP Lovecraft warned about giant bags of protoplasm from deep beneath the sea like these.

    Yes, by all means, bring those infant shoggoth up here for study... preferably in heavily populated areas!

    Genetically engineer them? Sure! What could possibly go wrong?!

    (Note, this is meant to be funny.)

    • Wrong? I don't know, but some cultures believe that Sea Urchin tastes great; and the difference is minimal. Burger King,("have it your way"), you've got to love the irony.
    • “The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of the infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far.” H.P. Lovecraft

      We'll see who's laughing when those experiments go horribly awry.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        We'll see who's laughing when those experiments go horribly awry.

        Me, I'll be laughing. And stroking my white cat. In my volcano lair.

  • by wisebabo (638845) on Monday October 24, 2011 @07:34PM (#37825896) Journal

    I mean it's like a reverse space probe (goes down instead of up) but it makes a "soft" landing and then "liftoff" to return to orbit (I mean the recovery ship). Because (I think) it's not tethered it's completely autonomous which makes it like a Mars probe in the sense that all landing decisions must be done without human intervention (because in the case of the Mars probe, the 10 min. delay makes real time control impossible).

    It's really too bad that there are no (?) feasible ways of communicating with it short of a fiber-optic cable. At a minimum 6 miles run length, I suppose this would greatly add to the complexity and cost of the mission. But maybe I'm wrong about this, what "high" bandwidth wireless solutions are there for transmitting underwater? I've seen SCUBA divers communicating with full face masks, do they use some sort of hydro-sonic transceiver? Would this work over a distance of miles? Unlike military applications, there's no need for stealth so maybe there are some overlooked solutions.

    • I wonder if you might use sound, but from a phased-array emitter, as is done in modern radar. IIRC, low sound frequencies propagate well in seawater and the higher the frequency, the greater the attenuation. From bandwidth perspective, you'd like to use a higher frequency. The phased-array emitter would let you concentrate the sound into a narrow beam to help overcome attenuation. Maybe some kind of cooperative emitter/DropCam interaction could help keep the beam on target as the camera descends and ris

  • That's a 10 centimeter long cell, imagine a multicellular creature hiding in the depths of the trench with cells this size :)

    we could have the Leviathan mentioned in the bible be a real creature hiding in the depths of the trench or some other giant beast :)

    would be cool...

    release the kracken!

  • by koelpien (639319) on Monday October 24, 2011 @08:24PM (#37826348)
    These can be really dangerous if brought up to the surface. Because their deep habitat has such oppressive pressure, at sea level, they will have excess energy burn, since they are out of their native high-pressure environment. They could even become airborne, seek out humans for our body heat, and take control of their cortical systems. We will slowly go mad, unless Spock saves us.
  • pre-Cambrian sizes (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Tablizer (95088) on Monday October 24, 2011 @09:08PM (#37826660) Homepage Journal

    Ediacaran-era (pre-Cambrian) life-forms may be single-celled, but many scientists call them "multi-cellular" without question due their size. Since there are no known living relatives of Ediacarans, it's hard to say. Fossils don't preserve enough details. The possibility of them being single-celled is still fairly strong.

  • The creatures are 10 centimetres long, but live 6 miles underwater? So, what's it gonna be? Metric or American units? At the very least, be consistent!
    • The one holding the ruler was canadian, but the one working the wench and line was american, go figure...these international explorations need to have some sort of standard!!!

      • by daem0n1x (748565)
        Well, they have. The scientific community uses the universal standard, which is the metric system. Even in those exotic locations like Liberia, Burma and the USA.
        • Except, the guy who decided to measure the distance to the bottom of the ocean floor using a different way (miles!)

    • You're right. It should be measured in leagues, as in, "20,000 leagues under the sea."

  • Isnt that where we placed the blob when it got too huge, we threw it into the ocean, and now someone went and dug it up.....oh noss.

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