New microscopic life aboard the RMS Titanic

Dec 06, 2010
This is a view of rusticles on the wreck of RMS Titanic. Credit: Image courtesy of RMS Titanic Inc.

A brand-new bacterial species has been found aboard the RMS Titanic, which is contributing to its deterioration. The discovery reveals a potential new microbial threat to the exterior of ships and underwater metal structures such as oil rigs.

The researchers, who report their findings in the latest issue of the published on 8 December, isolated the micro-organisms from a 'rusticle', collected from the RMS Titanic, 3.8 km below the ocean surface.

The novel bacterium has been named Halomonas titanicae by the scientists from Dalhousie University, Halifax, Canada and the University of Sevilla, Sevilla, Spain. The team also tested the rusting ability of the - and found that it was able to adhere to steel surfaces, creating knob-like mounds of corrosion products, which they will be reporting in an upcoming paper.

A similar bacterial corrosive process is thought to be responsible for the formation of the rusticles – which resemble rusty icicles – that adorn the hull of the RMS Titanic. While these appear to be solid structures, rusticles are highly porous and support a complex variety of bacteria, suggesting that H. titanicae may work in conjunction with other organisms to speed up the corrosion of the metal.

The RMS Titanic was made up of 50,000 tons of iron and has been progressively deteriorating for the past 98 years. Lead researchers Dr Bhavleen Kaur and Dr Henrietta Mann, from Dalhousie University explained that the role of microbes in this process is now starting to be understood. "We believe H. titanicae plays a part in the recycling of iron structures at certain depths. This could be useful in the disposal of old naval and merchant ships and oil rigs that have been cleaned of toxins and oil-based products and then sunk in the deep ."

Dr Kaur and Dr Mann believe that the findings have opened up further areas of research that could have applications for industry. "We don't know yet whether this species arrived aboard the RMS before or after it sank. We also don't know if these bacteria cause similar damage to offshore oil and gas pipelines," they said. "Finding answers to these questions will not only better our understanding of our oceans, but may also equip us to devise coatings that can prevent similar deterioration to other metal structures."

Explore further: Top Japan lab dismisses ground-breaking stem cell study

Provided by Society for General Microbiology

not rated yet
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Expedition Titanic gets underway

Aug 20, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- A 20-day expedition aiming to create a virtual 3-D map of the R.M.S. Titanic wreck site is about to leave St. Johns in Newfoundland carrying the latest technologies and dozens of scientists ...

Mapping of 'Titanic' wreck begins

Aug 27, 2010

A high-tech expedition that aims to create a detailed map of the wreckage of the Titanic has begun exploring the ocean floor where the ship sank nearly one hundred years ago, the crew said Thursday.

New Titanic expedition will create 3D map of wreck

Jul 27, 2010

(AP)— A team of scientists will launch an expedition to the Titanic next month to assess the deteriorating condition of the world's most famous shipwreck and create a detailed three-dimensional map that ...

'Titanic' mapping expedition sets sail (Update)

Aug 24, 2010

A high-tech expedition that aims to create a detailed map of the wreckage of the Titanic, nearly a hundred years after the fabled ship sank in the Atlantic, set sail from Canada on Monday. ...

Recommended for you

Top Japan lab dismisses ground-breaking stem cell study

14 hours ago

Japan's top research institute on Friday hammered the final nail in the coffin of what was once billed as a ground-breaking stem cell study, dismissing it as flawed and saying the work could have been fabricated.

Research sheds light on what causes cells to divide

Dec 24, 2014

When a rapidly-growing cell divides into two smaller cells, what triggers the split? Is it the size the growing cell eventually reaches? Or is the real trigger the time period over which the cell keeps growing ...

Locking mechanism found for 'scissors' that cut DNA

Dec 24, 2014

Researchers at Johns Hopkins have discovered what keeps an enzyme from becoming overzealous in its clipping of DNA. Since controlled clipping is required for the production of specialized immune system proteins, ...

Scrapie could breach the species barrier

Dec 24, 2014

INRA scientists have shown for the first time that the pathogens responsible for scrapie in small ruminants (prions) have the potential to convert the human prion protein from a healthy state to a pathological ...

Extracting bioactive compounds from marine microalgae

Dec 24, 2014

Microalgae can produce high value health compounds like omega-3s , traditionally sourced from fish. With declining fish stocks, an alternative source is imperative. Published in the Pertanika Journal of Tr ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

gwrede
not rated yet Dec 06, 2010
We believe H. titanicae plays a part in the recycling of iron structures at certain depths. This could be useful in the disposal of old naval and merchant ships and oil rigs
So, you'd rather dump used iron in the ocean than recycle it properly?

Yes, some could say it's cheaper, but it definitely isn't a good example of conscientous environment policy.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.