Titanic in jeopardy: New Species of Rust-Eating Bacteria can Devour the Historic Ship
Probably one of the most iconic ships of all time is being munched on by a critter we cannot even see. A marvel of engineering for its time, the “unsinkable” Titanic set out on its doomed maiden voyage on April 10th, 1912, but by the early morning on April 15th, it lay almost two miles underwater. For over 100 years, the Titanic has remained peacefully undisturbed in its watery tomb or so you would think. Many people have a notion of ship racks, as preserved time capsules untouched by time and elements, but as it turns out they serve as feeding grounds to complex ecosystems developing in and around them. If you have ever seen any eerily pictures of the sunken ship or the ghostly video clips of the real ship from the movie Titanic, you might have noticed icicle-like structures all over the metal body of the ship. These “rusticles” are actually evidence of the slow destruction of the Titanic. Samples taken from these structures have shown to be teaming with bacteria, of which, one has been characterized and named Halomonas titanicae. While finding this metal-eating bacteria has some people crying out to save the remains of this historic tragedy, there are others who have taken the glass half full approach to leap to a potential use for these bacteria. While maybe not the ideal ending for this sunken wreckage, there are other wreckages littering our ocean floors and H. titanicae could be an eco-friendly solution for recycling these ships back into the environment. Although in some instances, like oil rigs, metal eating strains of bacteria would be detrimental to their structural integrity and have huge monetary costs, and preventing the growth of bacteria in water presents a huge new set of challenges, so H. titanicae also provides a unique opportunity to study this type of bacteria before it’s a really problem. Finally, H. titanicae is just one new strain identified in the sample taken from the Titanic and there could be so many more novel strains that we have the potential to learn from. While any of the paths have their own complications and potential downfalls and successes, most simplistically, we are left with the question do we focus more on the preservation of the past or the evolvement for the future?
1. Fowler, Dave. “Titanic Facts.” Titanic Facts: The Life and Lost of the RMS Titanic in Numbers. History in Numbers, 2011. <http://www.titanicfacts.net/>.
2. Sánchez-Porro, C. et al. Halomonas titanicae sp. nov., a halophilic bacterium isolated from the RMS Titanic. International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology. (60) 2768-2774. 2010