Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.


Bacteria 'munching on Titanic'

11 April 2012, 08:40

Halifax - In less than 30 years, there may be nothing left of the Titanic but a heap of "rusticles", warns researcher Henrietta Mann, who has spent four years researching bacteria gnawing on its sunken hull.

A scientific expedition in 1991 to the disintegrating wreck some 3 780m to the ocean floor revealed the formation of rust similar to icicles or stalactites in appearance hanging off the massive ship. They normally occur underwater when wrought iron oxidises.

Mann, a biologist and geologist at Dalhousie University in Halifax, obtained samples from the Bedford Institute of Oceanography and scrutinised them under an electronic microscope. She discovered that bacteria, not a chemical process, were behind these particular deep water formations.

The Canadian researcher identified dozens of bacteria, including one never seen before, which she dubbed Halomonas Titanicae, that had been "munching" on the steel hull and busily transforming it, atom by atom, into rusticles, some as tall as men.

Invisible to the naked eye, measuring only 1.6 micrometers in length, the bacteria have multiplied into billions over the years.

"The Titanic is 50 000 tons of steel," Mann told AFP. "So, there is plenty of food for my bacteria."

The bacteria also appear to find delicious the ship's windows, stairways, and gates - all made of rough iron - as well as its cast iron furnaces. "They eat these as well," Mann said. Only the brass is not being touched.

Tremendous loss of heritage

"I don't know the speed of eating of the iron by the bacteria," but comparing the earliest photos of the wreck with the latest it is clear that rapid change is occurring.

"Maybe in 20 or 30 years the wreck will collapse [into a] heap of rust," she said.

Mann recorded 27 bacteria living in the rusticles, some with tentacles, as well as tube worms and other tiny creatures, in a "symbiotic colony".

The first of them were likely created by diatom (unicellular algae) in "marine snow" - dirt from the surface. One bacteria then produced others and together they formed a chain and then a net, more bacteria grew over the net and holes filled in and finally the structures hardened into rusticles with channels inside where water circulates. "Its structure is like a sponge," Mann explained.

The disintegration of the Titanic would certainly mean a tremendous loss of heritage, says Mann. But at the same time her discovery offers hope: all of the old ships, oil rigs and cargo that fall to the bottom of the sea will not pile up like garbage.

Bacteria will eventually dispose of it all.


Tags science

Read News24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Read more from our Users

Nigeria @ 56: Words to my green f...

A leader’s job is not to dictate, but rather to be respected, admired and be a trustee, of the land we love, with so much potential, a land which should be freer than free. Its still a long way to fufilling our destiny! Read more...

Submitted by
Isaac Asabor263
Recession: An opportunity for Nig...

The recession should be seen as an opportunity for the country’s promotion as long as we all collectively conduct ourselves in a patriotic manner, writes Isaac Asabor.  Read more...

Submitted by
Black and White

We want to imitate the whites in everything because we are ignorant of our inherent originality and content. We spend all our Naira to acquire his inventions because we so oblivious of our natural endowments that we allow him have it for free. Read more...

Submitted by
Nate Nat
Adamawa State University Mubi: A ...

ADSU integrity forum has accused the Sunday Joshua Wugira, a lawyer, of adopting unorthodox tactics by abusing his privilege by attacking the integrity of ADSU Vice Chancellor Dr. Moses Zira Zaruwa, writes a News24 reader. Read more...

Submitted by
Abdulsalam Jubril
My Country Nigeria (Part One)

Poetry by Abdulsalam Jubril.

Submitted by
Abdulsalam Jubril
Recession, dearth in leadership a...

Every leader has the opportunity to become great and making himself immortal in the lives and hearts of people for generations to come. Will Mr. President seize this opportunity?, questions Abdulsalam Jubril. Read more...