Friday, December 10, 2010

Scientists Say Iron-Eating Bacteria Are Gobbling Up the Titanic

Iron-Eating Bug Is Gobbling Up the Titanic

(Dec. 8) -- Nearly 100 years after it struck an iceberg and sank, the Titanic has a new enemy: iron-eating bacteria.

A newly discovered microbe dubbed Halomonas titanicae is chewing its way through the wreck of the famous ship and leaving little behind except a fine dust, researchers report in today's issue of the International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology.

This photo obtained August 31, 2010 courtesy of Premier Exhibitions, Inc./ Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, shows the Titanic Bow from the starboard side.
Handout / AFP / Getty Images
Scientists have found iron-eating bacteria in porous rusticles, which resemble stalactites, on the wreck of Titanic, shown here in an August photo.
The hungry bug means that the wreck of the Titanic could vanish from the ocean floor far sooner than anyone expected.

"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."

"Eventually there will be nothing left but a rust stain," she said.

The RMS Titanic set sail from Southampton, England, on its maiden voyage to New York on April 10, 1912. More than 100,000 people had turned out the previous year to see the launch of what was then the world's largest man-made movable structure, according to

On the night of April 14, 1912, the ship struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic Ocean. The iceberg ruptured the underside of the craft. More than 1,000 people were killed when the boat sank early the next day.

The tragedy captured the public's imagination. The 1997 movie "Titanic," starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, won 11 Academy Awards.

Scientists from Dalhousie and the University of Seville in Spain found the bacteria in rusticles on the wreck of Titanic.

Rusticles resemble stalactites, only they are porous and allow water to pass through them. Scientists say the bacteria will eventually reduce the rusticles to dust.

"It's a natural process, recycling the iron and returning it to nature," Mann said.

The location of the wreck of the Titanic remained a mystery for more than 70 years after it sank. In 1985, a joint American-French expedition found the ship 329 miles southeast of Newfoundland.

The expedition discovered that the wreck had split in two, with the bow and the stern facing in opposite directions.

The decay of the wreck could be a scientific bonanza as researchers use information from its decay to research ways to protect future vessels.

"We tend to have this idea that these wrecks are time capsules frozen in time, when in fact there all kinds of complex ecosystems feeding off them, even at the bottom of that great dark ocean," said Dan Conlin, curator of the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Haliax.

Posted via email from Tony Burkhart