Thursday, November 10, 2011

Halomonas titanicae

I'm just going to get it out of the way right here at the start: what makes Halomonas titanicae interesting is that it is the bacterium that is slowly eating the wreck of the RMS Titanic.[1] Yes, you read that right. A bacterium at the bottom of the ocean is munching on that ill-fated passenger liner (which never had a passenger named Rose Dawson). As bacteria oxidize the wrought iron hull, it forms stalactite-like formations called rusticles.[2] This consumption is proceeding at such a rate (exacerbated by frequent visits by tourists in submersibles [3]) that it is predicted that the RMS Titanic wreck will completely disintegrate in the next 30–50 years.[4]

Halomonas titanicae (sorry no picture [5]) was first isolated from the rusticles of the RMS Titanic in 1991, but the species wasn't formally described and accepted until 2010.[6] In addition to using the iron (and trace amounts of phosphorus and sulfur) found in the wrought iron, Halomonas titanicae prefers to grow in a ~10% salt solution.[7]

[1] Sánchez-Porro, C., et al. (2010) "Halomonas titanicae sp. nov., a halophilic bacterium isolated from the RMS Titanic." IJSEM 60: 2768–2774. doi: 10.1099/ijs.0.020628-0.

[2] This is a portmanteau of rust + icicle. You can see some here.

[3] See

[4] See wreck of RMS Titanic#Current condition of the wreck.

[5] All images I could find were copyrighted. See here and here.

[6] Sánchez-Porro, loc. cit.

[7] Besides sodium chloride (table salt), this includes magnesium chloride, calcium chloride, potassium chloride, sodium bicarbonate, and sodium bromide.

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