Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Bizarre bone worms emit acid to feast on whale skeletons: Bone-melting substance drills opening for worms to access nutrients

Date:
May 1, 2013
Source:
University of California - San Diego
Summary:
Only within the past 12 years have marine biologists come to learn about the eye-opening characteristics of mystifying sea worms that live and thrive on the skeletons of whale carcasses. Now, scientists at describe how Osedax, mouthless and gutless "bone worms," excrete a bone-melting acid to gain entry to the nutrients within whale bones.

External view of an Osedax specimen. Bottom: Fluorescent labeling of acid-secreting enzyme (green) and cell nuclei (blue).
Credit: Greg Rouse, Martin Tresguerres, Sigrid Katz

Only within the past 12 years have marine biologists come to learn about the eye-opening characteristics of mystifying sea worms that live and thrive on the bones of whale carcasses.

With each new study, scientists have developed a better grasp on the biology of Osedax, a genus of mouthless and gutless "bone worms" that make a living on skeletons lying on the seafloor. In the latest finding, scientists at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego describe how the wispy worms are able to carry out their bone-drilling activities. As published in the May 1 online edition of the Proceedings of the Royal Society B (Biological Sciences), Martνn Tresguerres, Sigrid Katz, and Greg Rouse of Scripps detail how Osedax excrete a bone-melting acid to gain entry to the nutrients within whale bones.

"The acid presumably allows the worms to release and absorb collagen and lipids that are trapped in bone," said Tresguerres. "This model is remarkably similar to how mammals repair and remodel bone, however Osedax secrete acid to dissolve foreign bone and access nutrients."

In their report, the scientists describe a process in which the worms use a "proton pump" to secrete acid onto the bone. Tresguerres says similar acid-secreting enzymes exist in all other organisms, such as in human kidneys to handle blood and urine functions.

Because they lack mouths, bone worms must use an alternative method of consuming nutrients from whale bones. Bacteria that live symbiotically within the worms are involved in this process, however, the exact mechanism is not yet fully understood. Some evidence suggests that the symbiotic bacteria metabolize bone-derived collagen into other diverse organic compounds, and that the worms subsequently digest the bacteria for their own nutrition.

"The Osedax symbiosis shows that nutrition is even more diverse than we imagined and our results are one step closer in untangling the special relationship between the worm and its bacteria," said Katz, a Scripps postdoctoral researcher.

A 2011 study led by Rouse found that bone worms have primarily been found attached to whale skeletons, but they are capable of making a living on other bones as well, including fish. That finding supported a hypothesis that Osedax's bone-eating lifestyle may have evolved millions of years ago, even before the dawn of marine mammals.

To continue learning more about bone worms, the scientists plan to collaborate with colleagues at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in the coming months to collect and study additional bone samples with live worm specimens. They also plan to maintain live Osedax in aquaria at Scripps to study their physiology.

"Determining how Osedax gets into bones was the first challenge in understanding the nutrition of these bizarre animals," said Rouse. "Now we'd like to understand how they transport and utilize the nutrients that they have uncovered."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of California - San Diego. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Martin Tresguerres, Sigrid Katz, and Greg W. Rouse. How to get into bones: proton pump and carbonic anhydrase in Osedax boneworms. Proc. R. Soc. B., 2013 DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2013.0625

Cite This Page:

University of California - San Diego. "Bizarre bone worms emit acid to feast on whale skeletons: Bone-melting substance drills opening for worms to access nutrients." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 1 May 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/05/130501091900.htm>.
University of California - San Diego. (2013, May 1). Bizarre bone worms emit acid to feast on whale skeletons: Bone-melting substance drills opening for worms to access nutrients. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 22, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/05/130501091900.htm
University of California - San Diego. "Bizarre bone worms emit acid to feast on whale skeletons: Bone-melting substance drills opening for worms to access nutrients." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/05/130501091900.htm (accessed August 22, 2014).

Share This




More Earth & Climate News

Friday, August 22, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Airlines on Iceland Volcano Alert

Airlines on Iceland Volcano Alert

Reuters - Business Video Online (Aug. 22, 2014) — Iceland evacuates an area north of the country's Bardarbunga volcano, as the country's civil protection agency says it cannot rule out an eruption. Authorities have already warned airlines. As Joel Flynn reports, ash from the eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in 2010 shut down much of Europe's airspace for six days. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Endangered Red Wolves Face Uncertain Future

Endangered Red Wolves Face Uncertain Future

AP (Aug. 22, 2014) — A federal judge temporarily banned coyote hunting to save endangered red wolves, but local hunters say that the wolf preservation program does more harm than good. Meanwhile federal officials are reviewing its wolf program in North Carolina. (Aug. 22) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Coal Gas Boom in China Holds Climate Risks

Coal Gas Boom in China Holds Climate Risks

AP (Aug. 22, 2014) — China's energy revolution could do more harm than good for the environment, despite the country's commitment to reducing pollution and curbing its carbon emissions. (Aug. 22) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Microbrewery Chooses Special Can for Its Beer

Microbrewery Chooses Special Can for Its Beer

AP (Aug. 22, 2014) — Aluminum giant, Novelis, has partnered with Red Hare Brewing Company to introduce the first certified high-content recycled beverage can. (Aug. 22) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins