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. Fred

    I think it a bit biologically insensitive to pull the bacteria card here, pitting one strain against the other. Only a bully would rush to such prejudice, and this bacterial profiling has no place in the 21st century.

    December 11, 2010 at 11:21 pm | Report abuse |
  2. jatodog

    There can't be a new species of bacteria. Evolution doesn't exist and I don't recall Moses having any petri dishes on the ark.

    Clarification 😛

    December 11, 2010 at 11:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • brody

      So the bacteria came from nothing (or a big bang)? Clarification 🙂

      December 12, 2010 at 1:20 am | Report abuse |
  3. RUFFNUTT

    @JATODOG

    why do you think the ark was made of wood...duh

    December 12, 2010 at 12:01 am | Report abuse |
  4. Tom

    Nothing new here. Sciece has known about metal eating bacteria for decades.

    December 12, 2010 at 12:11 am | Report abuse |
  5. Brian

    Bring it to the surface or let it go. Somebody make a decision.

    December 12, 2010 at 12:20 am | Report abuse |
  6. Paul Hauser

    If God exists, he would be able to create an impenatrable suit of Armor, and then penetrate it. Lets hope and pray Republicans, especially that nimrod Sarah Palin, John McCain, and most Wall Streeters are made from steel and then the bacteria can eat them also,

    December 12, 2010 at 12:30 am | Report abuse |
  7. St.Boggzy

    Yet too many species to be discovered. 🙂

    December 12, 2010 at 12:39 am | Report abuse |
  8. Wilder Napalm

    Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust. Nothing man made will last. Even the pyramids will vanish in time. So will man.

    December 12, 2010 at 12:46 am | Report abuse |
  9. Old Vet

    I have never seen so many people waste so much time on a subject that doesn't mean a hill of beans. It is what ir is.....

    December 12, 2010 at 12:47 am | Report abuse |
    • Wzrd1

      Uh, huh. So, NOTHING NEW is good?
      I personally LOVE new knowledge. No matter the source or type.
      But then, such odd knowledge has kept me alive for many, many years.

      December 12, 2010 at 1:05 am | Report abuse |
    • taildragon

      This is the very reason the American Empire is collapsing. American test scores are plummeting because American students learn from their elders that they deserve an easy life, untroubled by work or study or learning. If it doesn't put more fizz in their beer, you're wasting their time.

      December 12, 2010 at 8:52 am | Report abuse |
  10. Dan

    So they discovered a species? And now thy want to kill it. Just let them go. Don't mess with Mather Nature!

    December 12, 2010 at 12:53 am | Report abuse |
    • Wzrd1

      Dan, learn to read. They plainly stated they were NOT planning, considering or even having a quarter thought of killing it.
      And to be honest, I'd wish them the best of luck trying, whist laughing.
      For it would be FAR cheaper to bring the wreck to the surface than to kill that bacteria.

      December 12, 2010 at 1:07 am | Report abuse |
    • Dan

      Human beings kill all things they do not understand. I did read it thoroughly, but also read between the lines. Ciao.

      December 12, 2010 at 2:17 am | Report abuse |
  11. Rob

    Women and children first – I'd find a dress, some heels and get myself on the lifeboat.

    December 12, 2010 at 1:02 am | Report abuse |
    • Wzrd1

      You'd not have far to look, just your wardrobe.

      December 12, 2010 at 1:07 am | Report abuse |
    • Fiona

      There is a story that one of the bigwigs who went down with the ship intervened when a boy was stopped from joining his mother in a lifeboat. He reportedly put some girl's clothing on the boy (a hat or something) and said, " Now he's a girl, and now he can go.". Or so they say...

      December 12, 2010 at 1:57 am | Report abuse |
  12. junjaofthenickyos

    Let the ship be because it is somebody's grave

    December 12, 2010 at 1:09 am | Report abuse |
  13. Fiona

    I fail to see why this is a "bad" bacteria, when it is helping to break down waste on the ocean floor. A sunken ship - historical or not - is waste.

    December 12, 2010 at 1:52 am | Report abuse |
  14. trehgr2

    I wonder, what about the deep sea wells, will they be affected by the bacteria? I know that some things last a long time but doubt that anything lasts forever, painted or not. With just one open well making such a mess what will it be like when the thousands of deep sea wells are being consumed by bacteria? Let's see, how many years away is that? Any guesses out there?

    December 12, 2010 at 1:58 am | Report abuse |
  15. jackbenimble

    I heard that Obama's birth certificate and college transcripts are on board that wreck!

    December 12, 2010 at 2:03 am | Report abuse |
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