New metal-eating bacteria found on Titanic
December 11th, 2010
06:17 PM ET

New metal-eating bacteria found on Titanic

Bacteria scooped from the wreckage of the Titanic almost 20 years ago have been confirmed as a new species in the December issue of a microbiology journal.

While new scientific discoveries are usually heralded as joyous news, this discovery is bittersweet.

The bacteria, found on the ship's "rusticles" (rust formations that look like icicles), are eating the Titanic.

The strain, dubbed Halomonas titanicae, was initially designated BH1T in honor of the researchers who discovered it, then-graduate student Bhavleen Kaur and Dr. Henrietta Mann at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada.

The researchers tested the bacteria to see whether it was "good bacteria" or "bad bacteria," according to the school's website.

Let's just say the bug has an appetite for destruction.

"The BH1 cells stuck to the surface of these [small metal tags] and eventually destroyed the metal. So we knew we had a bad bacteria,” Mann is quoted as saying on the Dalhousie University website.

"In 1995, I was predicting that Titanic had another 30 years," said Mann, who still works at the university, according to CBS News. "But I think it's deteriorating much faster than that now ... Eventually there will be nothing left but a rust stain," she is quoted as saying.

The metal-eating bug presents a dilemma for scientists.

"Letting it proceed with its deterioration is also a learning process," said Kaur, who now works with the Ontario Science Centre, according to National Geographic. "If we stop and preserve it, then we stop the process of degradation," Kaur is quoted as saying.

The findings were published in the December 8 issue of the  International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology.

The Titanic, heralded in its day as the largest passenger ship in the world, sank on its maiden voyage in 1912, killing more than 1,500 people. The wreckage was found in 1985 by an expedition team more than 2 miles deep in the Atlantic Ocean.

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Filed under: History • Nature
soundoff (188 Responses)
  1. Mickmeister

    >>The researchers tested the bacteria to see whether it was "good bacteria" or "bad bacteria"<<

    Um...if it eats ships, it's bad. Real bad...

    December 11, 2010 at 7:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Charlie

      Aside from sentimentality the ship is just garbage laying on the floor of the ocean, abandoned by man. Garbage eating bacteria – that would make them good bacteria

      December 11, 2010 at 9:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Junior

      Hahahha,,, You are right! and in fact, I think this bacteria is not bad at all, maybe for those whom want to preserve the wreck, but not for the ocean that wants to clear its waters.. I think is mother nature at its prime... 😉

      December 11, 2010 at 10:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brain Hertz

      No, the bacteria are just testing the ship to see if it's a "good ship" or a "bad ship".

      December 11, 2010 at 10:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wzrd1

      The ONLY bacteria that is bad is the bacteria that tries to eat a living person.
      All others are good, even IF they get to my food before me, serves me right for waiting to eat it.
      As for the scientists "stopping it" for conservation, should they ever seek to try, best of luck to them! They'll find it cheaper to raise the wreck first!

      December 12, 2010 at 1:04 am | Report abuse |
    • Joy

      I find it amazing that the world, a living organism found a way to get rid of the unnatural.. metal is essential to you and I, howerver it's foreign to the earth.

      December 12, 2010 at 7:27 am | Report abuse |
    • Elizabeth

      Joy–I'm not sure what you're smoking, but metal is from the earth. It's not an alien artifact.

      December 12, 2010 at 8:23 am | Report abuse |
    • Doug

      Metal is from outer space.

      December 12, 2010 at 8:57 am | Report abuse |
    • Diane

      And bacteria is also from outer space..

      December 12, 2010 at 9:20 am | Report abuse |
    • j

      Joy is right. Let the space metal and space bacteria fight it out. Humanity suffered enough when we intervened in the intergalactic battle between Twinkies and the Jupiter space fish.

      December 12, 2010 at 10:33 am | Report abuse |
    • Ramon F Herrera

      ...and then, some (mostly baggers) have the nerve to say that there is no life outside Earth. LOL

      December 12, 2010 at 11:12 am | Report abuse |
    • Rod

      LOL! WE** are IN* outer space!!!

      December 12, 2010 at 2:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Crispin

      That bacteria can effectively be useful in waste management and recycling. I would classify it as good bacteria.

      December 13, 2010 at 4:52 am | Report abuse |
  2. Bill

    Evolution in profress

    December 11, 2010 at 7:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      Hmmmm....plenty of scientific evidence that evolution exists.....zero scientific evidence that god exists.

      December 12, 2010 at 12:03 am | Report abuse |
    • whocares

      so if god put man on planet x to give them a brain and test them, would it make sense for him to say hey man kind i am here.
      wouldn't make sense, it is evident that this universe was designed. in what you call science, life does not come from non life and order does not come chaos (explosions)

      December 12, 2010 at 12:21 am | Report abuse |
    • JD Jr

      Proof of evolution at the moment exists as a theoretical geology column (contradicted in nature from Pike's Peak to Ayer's Rock) and an incomplete fossil record. Very uncomplete (i.e. no transition fossils).

      Proof against the existance of God has been in the works for millenia. And that persistant little belief in a Creator somehow still keeps on going; maybe it's not as ignorant as percieved at first blush?

      December 12, 2010 at 12:21 am | Report abuse |
    • EvoDevo

      Too bad these commentators dismiss evolution. As far as bacteria go, I hope they don't get the recently evolved MRSA superbug. I wonder if that will be REAL enough for you dolts

      December 12, 2010 at 12:40 am | Report abuse |
    • Jason

      Um, actually there is plenty of evidence that theory of evolution is representative of a real process. What's more, its not necessary to pit God vs.Science. Only certain Christian factions- notably fundamentalist evangelicals, popular here in the U.S. – make the idea of creationism- specifically the idea that all families and individual species of life were created whole, without alteration, and have not changed signifigantly since (which is not actually stated in Scripture), a central tenant of thier belief system. This isn't a rational argument. You might as well argue the Hollow Earth Theory as creationism.

      December 12, 2010 at 12:42 am | Report abuse |
    • HamsterStringBand

      I don't think this is an example of evolution at work, but i do believe the theory is valid. JD Jr, your argument is a very weak one. Consistant belief in something does not count as conclusive evidence that God exists. Take that away, and there is as much evidence proving his existence as there is disproving it. And you are also wrong about the lack of transitional creatures in the fossil record, take Tiktaalik for example. Or don't because your close mindedness has made you blind to the advancements in the biological sciences. It's easy to just say God put it there and it died because it was an inferior species.
      Jason – I completely agree with you. Religion and evolution are not incompatable. Don't fall prey to the polarizing arguments because there is no need to take sides.

      December 12, 2010 at 1:38 am | Report abuse |
    • Jason

      Hahahaha,
      I love it when someone says evolution is not real. There is physical evidence for evolution, but there is no physical evidence for God. There is actually evolution in philosophical beliefs too. In the almost 2000 years since the creation of Christianity it has evolved to many different denominations, beliefs, and rituals. If there was one true god then why did people not believe in him in ancient Egypt. The Egyptian religions also were evolved in to Judaism and Judaism to Christianity. If there is one god why does he not wipe out Hindu's who believe in multiple gods and worship idols? Another evolution is in progress and the time of thinkers are at hand. Open your eyes and evolve, get out of the way, or finally learn to love thy neighbor.

      December 12, 2010 at 2:09 am | Report abuse |
    • Michelle

      God (or a creator if you hate the word God) Created Evolution, and guided it along. Solves the problem. Adaptation is a sign of evolution. There aren't many who would argue that adaptation doesn't exist.

      December 12, 2010 at 4:41 am | Report abuse |
    • Gumby

      Arthurr... Youse funny!

      December 12, 2010 at 6:04 am | Report abuse |
    • Gumby

      JD Jr – You're desperately clinging to the "God of the gaps". Ever heard of ERVs? Nah, you're one of those intentionally ignorant creationists that babble about "incomplete fossil records". There's evidence supporting the theory of evolution in dozens of scientific disciplines, and evidence has been piling up for 150 years, but all you idjits can come up with is laughable BS like "DURRRR, you haven't found every fossil yet!" and "If we evolved from monkeys why are there still monkeys?" LOL.

      Just remember that every time science makes a new discovery, your god has to find smaller and smaller gaps to hide in. Psst... your god doesn't exist...

      December 12, 2010 at 6:10 am | Report abuse |
    • CNILE

      Hmmmmm- over 95% of the mass of the universe is so-called "dark matter", that we can't "find"-I wonder how much God weighs....

      December 12, 2010 at 8:55 am | Report abuse |
  3. Kyle

    Don't stop it. That is how the planet is dealing with the clutter. Quit interfering.

    December 11, 2010 at 7:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Robert McNamara

      That is the smartest thing I've read in at least ten years. Irony is... We brought that crap up to the surface. Now what?

      December 12, 2010 at 10:28 am | Report abuse |
  4. leo

    If it eats a ship at the bottom of the ocean, then its it good bug. Ash to ash, Dust to dust, fade to black.

    December 11, 2010 at 7:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Linda

      wrong.

      December 11, 2010 at 9:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Erick

      Thanks for the detailed, thorough and intelligent response, Linda. I'm totally convinced.

      December 11, 2010 at 10:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • hillbilleter

      Right. This is how Mother Earth is cleaning house. Should she get the opinion of the pests living on her skin (humans) on how to deal with her trash? Nope. She's taking care of business. If we interfere too much with her methods, we may be the next trash to be disposed of. Something to think about.

      December 11, 2010 at 11:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • James

      LOL. "wrong". I'm going to use that more often.

      December 11, 2010 at 11:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Natalie

      Lmfao, I actually though that "negative" would have been more of an authentic response. =P

      December 12, 2010 at 4:16 am | Report abuse |
  5. RuFkngKdngMe

    One wreck on the ocean floor out of countless others.. who cares if it is eaten? What's cool is the discovery of the bacteria.

    December 11, 2010 at 7:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bernieg7

      Yes, and why not let the ship and all it's lost souls rest. It's history....

      December 12, 2010 at 12:25 pm | Report abuse |
  6. donny

    this is excellent news - we can use such bacteria to clear wreckage from shallow shipping channels and coastlines

    December 11, 2010 at 7:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • David

      Yeah, and then as shipping passes through the channel, the bacteria attaches itself to the hull, begins to eat the ship, and is then spread throughout the world, attacking shipping in all the oceans, everywhere. End of shipping.

      Brilliant idea, mate.

      December 11, 2010 at 8:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kyle

      David: you have no reason to believe that the bacteria can exist on it's own. Submarines, however, are certainly at risk.

      December 11, 2010 at 8:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kyle

      I take my previous comment back, and will clear the egg from my face shortly.

      December 11, 2010 at 8:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Pster

      The bacteria was found on the rust. Probably the only way it will get on a submarine or ship is if it's rusty, but that will lead to problems by itself.

      December 11, 2010 at 10:00 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Ralph

    My cat's breath smells like cat food.

    December 11, 2010 at 8:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Guillermo

      Thank you for that non sequitur...unexpected hilarity.

      December 11, 2010 at 8:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Guy Ladoosh

      My mouth tastes like burning!

      December 11, 2010 at 8:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hipkat13

      I sleep in a drawer.

      December 11, 2010 at 9:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Don Hertzfeldt

      I live in a giant bucket.

      December 11, 2010 at 10:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • hillbilleter

      My dogs play an organized game with a ball and I can't figure out the rules.

      December 11, 2010 at 11:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ralph, Jr.

      My nose makes it own bubbles!

      December 11, 2010 at 11:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dan

      i swallowed a bug once so....

      December 12, 2010 at 1:00 am | Report abuse |
    • OTO

      I like turtles!!!

      December 12, 2010 at 1:23 am | Report abuse |
    • Bore us

      Sh-sh-shake it all around.

      December 12, 2010 at 1:30 am | Report abuse |
    • runner305

      your brain reeks of stupidity

      December 12, 2010 at 1:30 am | Report abuse |
    • Leecat

      You all made me laff out loud – thanks for the late night chuckle!! 😀

      December 12, 2010 at 1:44 am | Report abuse |
    • Chumbuggler

      I'm twelve years old and what is this?

      December 12, 2010 at 3:42 am | Report abuse |
    • Sarah Palinski

      You betcha!

      December 12, 2010 at 10:09 am | Report abuse |
    • Johnny

      Winner of Best Thread Award!

      December 12, 2010 at 10:11 am | Report abuse |
    • Stevesie

      best comment on here

      December 12, 2010 at 10:51 am | Report abuse |
    • ELH

      I am evolving-Oops–THREE noses–damn, pass the Kleenex.

      December 12, 2010 at 10:53 am | Report abuse |
  8. Mack

    Can this bacteria eat away all the junk at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean? All the junk there just keeps growing and growing.

    December 11, 2010 at 8:13 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Chris

    Can these same bacteria eat Al Qaeda?

    December 11, 2010 at 8:21 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Jerry

    Ah, so THAT'S what happens to Chryslers........

    December 11, 2010 at 8:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Peezcake

      No, there's a different procedure in place for Chryslers:
      The Chrysler Recycling Automation Program;
      C.R.A.P., for short.

      December 11, 2010 at 8:34 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Andy

    Save part of it, let the rest rust away.

    – A

    December 11, 2010 at 8:25 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Tom

    Can we send this bacteria to the Whitehouse to eat the junk there?

    December 11, 2010 at 8:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom

      On 2nd thought, the junk in the Whitehouse would probably kill the bacteria.

      December 11, 2010 at 8:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Antwaun

      Can we send you to the bottom of the ocean and let it eat you?

      December 11, 2010 at 8:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • David

      Can we send the bacteria to the homes of Tea Partiers and let them eat the junk there?

      December 11, 2010 at 11:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Randy

      Somewhere in a small town Canadian bar, Neil Young's song, "Rust Never Sleeps" is playing.

      December 12, 2010 at 12:06 am | Report abuse |
    • Haley

      Even bacteria have standards. I don't think they could stomach the white house, and congress might just do them in.

      December 12, 2010 at 1:23 am | Report abuse |
  13. Rachel

    looks like mark madoff has been reincarnated.. into this!

    December 11, 2010 at 8:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • dude

      you're sick! no heart.

      December 11, 2010 at 10:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • you're lame

      Really? Only a dolt would glory in the distruction of someone else...and don't say he ruined other peoples' lives. This guy has been put through a meat grinder b/c of his father and there's been 0 evidence that he did anything wrong. Now his young kids will grow up without a father. Guess that's something to celebrate, eh Rachel? Dolt...

      December 12, 2010 at 1:09 am | Report abuse |
  14. Todd

    "Former" governor Sarah Palin recently diagnosed with rare bacterial infection!
    Ok now think darn it......there's gotta be a way ! There has to be. Think!

    December 11, 2010 at 8:44 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Malochlic

    Obviously "dr" Mann isn't a microbiologist by determining good from bad bacteria...there are no such thing as a good/bad bacteria since bacteria do not have emotions or understandings.

    December 11, 2010 at 8:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • hillbilleter

      That's very true. Why does one person get to deem a bacteria "good" or "bad"? Bacteria don't care, they just eat and reproduce.

      December 11, 2010 at 11:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Robear in Ojai

      Humans tend to separate things in the natural world as either good or bad. Animals or plants that are potentially dangerous to humans are thought of as "bad", regardless of their place in the ecosystem, and therefore have been hunted to near extinction. On the other hand, "beneficial" species, that is, things, plants or animals that we can exploit, eat, or make money out of, are thought of as "good".

      Even scientists are human...

      December 12, 2010 at 2:09 am | Report abuse |
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