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. Genesis

    They should Stop Wasting time; this is a historical museum down there...they should bring up as much as they can and then they should preserve what's brought up and display it like they do at the Luxur in Las Vegas.They can charge admission to see the artifacts and use the proceeds to further the exploration of the deep sea.

    December 12, 2010 at 2:15 am | Report abuse |
  2. 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 2:17 am | Report abuse |
  3. Namtra

    Please leave the bacteria where u found it....b4 it becomes a flesh eater and nt a metal eater

    December 12, 2010 at 2:48 am | Report abuse |
  4. Mike

    It is good bacteria if it is eating any of the mountains of trash we pile up on the sea floor.

    December 12, 2010 at 3:06 am | Report abuse |
  5. Thomas

    "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."
    1st of all you can't kill the bacteria on the whole ship. If not impossible it would certainly be too costly.With all due respect to those who died, intensely study/dissect the hulk & recover the artifacts for the future. There are no living survivors left.

    December 12, 2010 at 3:29 am | Report abuse |
  6. Hoss

    The bacteria isn't the main problem. The salt water and the fact that it's located in the depths of the ocean is the main issue here. Good bacteria, bad bacteria, that's all relative.

    December 12, 2010 at 3:41 am | Report abuse |
  7. Kynt

    Well, I think it's good bacteria. We can protect the ships that are in use with certain coatings, but it's great news to hear that even in depths where oxidization takes much longer human trash won't pollute the environment forever. You go, BH1!

    December 12, 2010 at 3:53 am | Report abuse |
  8. JonnyNmbr5

    You stole this thunderous story from a dude on YouTube named: BEEPEEOILDISASTER... he's been saying this for months. Man.. catch up with the News News.. what next.. you're going to write about Haiti?..

    December 12, 2010 at 4:12 am | Report abuse |
  9. DonFJ44

    I wouldn't worry much about the ship, but, what about all the toxic nuclear waste that's been dumped into the ocean? I guess that stuff will be released sooner than we think, thanks this and possibly other "undiscovered" bacteria.

    December 12, 2010 at 4:26 am | Report abuse |
  10. Santangeloo

    It's great to know Mother Nature has a cleansing system.

    December 12, 2010 at 5:16 am | Report abuse |
  11. Kimski

    I want a bacteria to be named after me

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

    acid rain

    December 12, 2010 at 6:50 am | Report abuse |
  13. Austin B

    Scientists have known about this metal-eating bacteria afflicting the wreck for a long time...this isn't brand-new headlines...It didnt take researchers very long to figure out that the ship was being eaten by those rusticles....and more than 10 years ago they began to study and understand more of how they work, digest and grow....they are pretty amzing little creatures really....as destructive to history as they are.....

    December 12, 2010 at 7:08 am | Report abuse |
    • taildragon

      Right. If you go to their site (Dalhousie College) they explain that what they did is publish that they sequenced the DNA and established that this was a unique bacterium. That's probably why it's news, and of course the fact that news sources pounce on the 'BAD' designation.

      December 12, 2010 at 8:46 am | Report abuse |
  14. Cesar

    So these little critters, their poop is technically scrap metal??

    December 12, 2010 at 7:49 am | Report abuse |
  15. Glen

    To those who think the wreck is nothing but a piece of junk, I beg to differ. The wreck is a grave site. 1912 is not that long ago and many people (passengers and crew) were caught below deck and their remains are entombed in this ship.

    December 12, 2010 at 8:14 am | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      To man, the ship is a gravesite, and sacred. To nature, it is an invader. Both are correct. After death, bacteria eat away at our bodies, too, not caring that the body was someone's loved one. Same thing here.

      December 12, 2010 at 11:28 am | Report abuse |
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