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. NYer

    We would all do a lot better to place less importance on the memorializing of physical place and residue. Isn't this what "Hoarders" is trying to teach us?

    December 12, 2010 at 8:23 am | Report abuse |
  2. rmcclain

    No matter how hard mankind tries, nothing will last forever Rome, Greece and ancient Mesopotamia all fell and very little remains of these places. The earth will always take back what it has given up.

    December 12, 2010 at 8:34 am | Report abuse |
  3. armymom16

    Good or bad bacteria relative to what? What is good or bad bacteria for us might not be the same for the earth or for inanimate objects.

    December 12, 2010 at 9:00 am | Report abuse |
  4. Sevenhabits

    Ahhhh who the eff cares and why do we know this? With all the crap going on in the world some brilliant mind and money is being wasted on this? LOL. Okidoki

    December 12, 2010 at 9:57 am | Report abuse |
    • taildragon

      Not finding a way to cram more creamy filling into Sevenhabit's Twinkies=Waste of Time. God help us.

      December 12, 2010 at 11:02 am | Report abuse |
  5. tachdriver

    Chuck Norris can make them stop !

    December 12, 2010 at 9:58 am | Report abuse |
  6. Mike

    Good to hear that scientists are spending someones hard earned money to find out that ships that sink at sea rust.

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

      Rust isn't new. The discovery of a previously unknown bacteria is. And yes, I happen to think any scientific discovery is interesting.

      December 12, 2010 at 11:33 am | Report abuse |
  7. Johnny

    Eventually this bacteria will realize how foul rust tastes, and move on to french fries.

    December 12, 2010 at 10:14 am | Report abuse |
  8. GD

    Bacteria are neither good nor bad. They just do what they do.

    December 12, 2010 at 10:37 am | Report abuse |
  9. a-rod

    how they when down to the ship and find at bacteria, why they can bring ship up to the surface.

    December 12, 2010 at 10:41 am | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      Say again. In English, please.

      December 12, 2010 at 11:30 am | Report abuse |
  10. Chad

    "Rusticles" sounds like a robot disease of the reproductive area.

    December 12, 2010 at 10:52 am | Report abuse |
  11. Oklahoma

    These bacteria should be used in a controlled environment to get rid of all the waste produced by us so that we have less landfills.

    December 12, 2010 at 11:02 am | Report abuse |
    • David

      okay i knew i wasn't the only one

      December 12, 2010 at 8:52 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Meriska

    How is this important again?

    December 12, 2010 at 11:03 am | Report abuse |
    • Ramon F Herrera

      You remind me of a joke we have in Spanish:

      – "Do you known the joke about the Ocean?"
      – "No"
      – "is is too deep for you"

      Go back to watch the news about Justin, or Paris or Lindsay...

      December 12, 2010 at 11:19 am | Report abuse |
    • Meriska

      That was just horrible........ You assume too much

      December 12, 2010 at 11:27 am | Report abuse |
  13. Ramon F Herrera

    Can we deport the teabaggers to those intenational waters? They could report back to us how the ship -and themselves- are slowly by surely going into oblivion. I will miss the ship, though.

    December 12, 2010 at 11:21 am | Report abuse |
  14. David

    am i the only person who sees this as possibly being a good thing? using a metal-eating bacteria in a controlled environment could work to make dent in the huge metal scrap yards that litter our planet. the report doesnt mention any effects, so i'm assuming there aren't any biproducts like sulfur or carbon which could affect our atmosphere.

    December 12, 2010 at 8:51 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Cesar

    @David. You are a chump.

    December 12, 2010 at 11:06 pm | Report abuse |
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