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. Barnacle Bill

    Who knew? Rust is bad.

    December 11, 2010 at 8:49 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Steve

    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.
    David, you obviously have NO clue as how ships take care of such problems. Periodically, the ships are supposed to go into drydock for maintenance, which includes scraping the hull of barnacles and other organisms and applying anti-fouling paint. In 30+ years in the Navy, including working in the drydocks, I never saw any ship – military or otherwise have the hull "eaten" out of it and think! Sounds as if you have too much time on your hands, watching way too many sci-fi movies!

    December 11, 2010 at 8:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • CTYank

      Steve, every X (was 3, now 5?) years, USN ships, in drydock, have their hulls completely blasted down to bare metal before painting. Scraping alone just would not be adequate prep. They call it "regular overhaul" (ROH).

      December 12, 2010 at 7:52 am | Report abuse |
    • Robert McNamara

      For the purpose of levity... I believe that David was exercising the sacrament of sarcasm. He must be catholic... It was part of my parochial education as well. Regardless, We brought something that belongs on the bottom of the ocean up to find out it is doing what we thought it was doing. Evolution and God coexist by the way. I know many world renowned scientists that worship at one church or another every Sunday. Some are even Jews at Temple. That's my experience hanging with the Yalies.

      December 12, 2010 at 10:35 am | Report abuse |
  3. david

    These bacteria are everywhere and they have been around for a long time. When we are done trashing the planet they will remain and clean our crap up eventually.

    December 11, 2010 at 8:51 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Steve

    "have the hull "eaten" out of it and think! "
    That's supposed to be"sink" – NOT "think"!

    December 11, 2010 at 8:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Johnny

      Give the guy a break, he's got a lisp...

      December 12, 2010 at 10:04 am | Report abuse |
  5. TK

    So what did they think was going to form on it? It's been under water for how long now?

    December 11, 2010 at 8:58 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Sam

    What are they going to do? Smear the wreck in probiotics?

    December 11, 2010 at 9:07 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Robert Yarush

    I have an idea.... why not throw millions of dollars into the preservation of a ship that lay in 10,000 feet of salt water?? Yeah... that sounds like something that absolutely needs to take place.

    December 11, 2010 at 9:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • sbrewer120

      I agree with you...mother nature is cleaning her home...maybe this bacteria is not new...just newly discovered. There is still alot of things we will never understand.

      December 12, 2010 at 9:55 am | Report abuse |
  8. newshound


    December 11, 2010 at 9:19 pm | Report abuse |
  9. kevin

    Why can't Congress pass a resolution to spend 127 billion to raise it restore it and send it off shore to Somolia for the pirates to practice on then when they all get on it bump an iceburg on it.

    December 11, 2010 at 9:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • brody

      Only 127 Bil? You won't get Congress to show up for less than a 500Bil bill.

      December 12, 2010 at 1:13 am | Report abuse |
  10. Morto

    So the ocean is basically trying to get rid of a big chunk of steel in a natural way and this is considered 'bad' by the scientists?

    December 11, 2010 at 9:31 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Russ

    The bacteria may only be able to live at depths of 10,000 feet or more. If it can live in shallow areas, it could be a problem for anything metal that people put in the water.

    December 11, 2010 at 9:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Holly

      Only if those things start rusting. It's found in rust.

      December 11, 2010 at 10:30 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Mick536

    The Republican Right has declared there is no such thing as bacteria and will be checking with Ruppert Murdoch of Fox for their next talking points

    December 11, 2010 at 9:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • David, Tampa


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

      Glenn Beck told me that 10% of all bacteria are Rust-Eating Terrorists.

      December 12, 2010 at 1:44 am | Report abuse |
  13. Captain Smith

    the article would better have stated that these bacteria are 'newly discovered'. They are not 'new' pointed out above they have likely been doing their thing for millions of years. And the wreck has been down there for 100 years so to support Steve's point, today's ships will not be eaten alive since they are cleaned routinely.

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

    i think this bacteria is the same stuff the use to glue the pick-up beds on toyota's together.

    December 11, 2010 at 9:51 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Steve

    There's always been something that eats away at ferrous metals. It's called rust. That's why we cover boats in anti-fouling paint. Which also happens be full of poisons to protect them from other stuff like barnacles, and yes, this bacteria.

    Any argument that this is going to affect any well maintained vessel in a detrimental way is simply wrong.

    December 11, 2010 at 9:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • David, Tampa

      Steve ...........Rust is oxidation: a very slow burning process

      December 11, 2010 at 10:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Johnny

      David is right!

      December 12, 2010 at 10:10 am | Report abuse |
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