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Bug Science

Iron-Eating Bug Is Gobbling Up the Titanic 221

gambit3 writes "A newly discovered microbe dubbed Halomonas titanicae is chewing its way through the wreck of the Titanic and leaving little behind except a fine dust, researchers report in the International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology. 'In 1995, I was predicting that Titanic had another 30 years,' said Henrietta Mann, a civil engineering adjunct professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. 'It's deteriorating much faster than that now.'"
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Iron-Eating Bug Is Gobbling Up the Titanic

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  • Other sunken ships (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Senes ( 928228 ) on Friday December 10, 2010 @09:59AM (#34513542)
    What about surveying sites like the battle of Midway for bugs like this? It could probably yield some very interesting information.
  • by snookerhog ( 1835110 ) on Friday December 10, 2010 @10:01AM (#34513554)
    when they run out of titanic? These things did not evolve to just eat the titanic. What is their usual diet other than shipwrecks?
  • by kae_verens ( 523642 ) on Friday December 10, 2010 @10:32AM (#34513790) Homepage

    it's possible that they /did/ evolve just to eat the titanic. Maybe there were some microbes that ate some other iron-filled delicacy, and happened across this gluttonous feast. over the next thousands/millions of generations, the microbes then evolved to specifically eat the titanic - I mean, why bother struggling to find food elsewhere when you're right at the feast table?

    and what happens when the titanic is gone? they die. maybe a few will survive, but any that have specialised to eat the hull will most likely not be able to eat anything else.

  • by Apuleius ( 6901 ) on Friday December 10, 2010 @10:32AM (#34513792) Journal

    The hull of the Titanic is made of pre-1945 steel. The bessemer process for making steel makes it absorb radioactive isotopes from the air, and so steel that was put throught the process before the first open air atom bomb tests is valuable for uses such as Geiger counters.

  • Maybe not: (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Hartree ( 191324 ) on Friday December 10, 2010 @10:41AM (#34513876)

    There's still a good bit of such iron around from the German fleet that was scuttled at Scapa Flow after WW1.

    Ssh! Don't tell the microbes, or they'll hitch a ride on a passing container ship and gobble that up too.

  • by raddan ( 519638 ) * on Friday December 10, 2010 @10:59AM (#34514040)
    Your "high salinity" in Antarctica quote made me wonder why Antarctic waters would have higher salinity than, say, tropical waters near large landmasses, where there would presumably be lots of runoff. I found this salinity map [records.viu.ca] of the oceans, which is quite surprising to me. The Atlantic is quite saline. Any oceanographers out there who can explain why salinity is distributed this way? I would expect the most saline areas to be near the tropics, and the least saline to be near the poles where you find melting ice and lower dissolving capacity of water (can you tell I'm not a chemist?). Also, not surprisingly, it seems that salinity is not evenly distributed from the top of the ocean to the bottom. Given that the Titanic in on the bottom of arctic waters, one would think that you wouldn't find Halomonas there.
  • Might be useful (Score:4, Interesting)

    by deadhammer ( 576762 ) on Friday December 10, 2010 @02:26PM (#34516030)
    This is a potentially useful bit of microbiology. Eventually we're going to have to clean up landfill sites and the like, so what would be more useful than a bug that strips all the iron out of a pile of stuff and deposits it in sediment? Scoop garbage into tanks, let the bugs do their work, collect the sludge at the bottom for processing. If we could engineer these bacteria to eat other stuff like copper or various types of plastic, we could potentially reclaim a lot of what we call "garbage" on the cheap. As for the Titanic? Well it's been almost a century now, I think it's time to let the old girl go.

What is algebra, exactly? Is it one of those three-cornered things? -- J.M. Barrie