An unusual relationship between bacteria and a newly discovered groupof marine worms is the only known partnership (or symbiosis) which usessunken marine mammals as its sole source of nutrition.
In the September issue of Environmental Microbiology, Dr ShanaGoffredi and her colleagues reveal this unique partnership betweenbacteria and the Osedax (bone-devouring) group of marine worms.
Symbiosis, or the living together of different organisms,allows some species to live in otherwise hostile environments, so itcan be a powerful mechanism of evolutionary change. This is especiallytrue in the deep sea. Survival in some deep-sea environments requirescapabilities that animals alone don't possess. So teaming up with amicrobial partner is the secret of survival for many host animalsliving in such environments.
Dr Goffredi says: "Measures of significant population sizes,and the discovery of four additional host species in only three years,suggests that the Osedax worms and their bacterial 'partners' arelikely to play substantial roles in the cycling of nutrients into thesurrounding deep-sea community."
This can be put into context by considering that the Osedaxworms and their symbiotic bacteria can turn-over a large amount oforganic carbon (one whale carcass may weigh up to 50 tons),approximately 2000 years faster than the usual mechanism of carbondeposition to the deep seafloor.
The results of this study will aid understanding of the potential for adaptation between animals and microbes.
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