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In a study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology in Bremen and Greifswald University, together with colleagues from Freiburg, Italy and the USA, have revealed that a small marine worm, faced with a scarce food supply in the sandy sediments it lives in off the coast of Elba, must deal with a highly poisionous menu: this worm lives on carbon monoxide and hydrogen sulphide.
The worm, Olavius algarvensis, can thrive on these poisons thanks to millions of symbiotic bacteria that live under its skin. They use the energy from carbon monoxide and hydrogen sulphide to produce food for the worm. The symbionts do this just like plants by fixing carbon dioxide into carbohydrates but instead of using light energy from the sun, the symbionts use the energy from chemical compounds like carbon monoxide. "They do this so effectively, that the worm has lost its entire digestive system, including its mouth and gut, during the course of evolution, and feeds only through its symbionts", explains Nicole Dubilier, Head of the Symbiosis Group at the Bremen-based Max Planck Institute.
Carbon monoxide and hydrogen sulphide, however, are by no means the only energy sources this worm can live on. Some of the symbiotic bacteria in the worm can take up hydrogen and organic nutrients from the environment, even if these are present in only tiny amounts. Olavius algarvensis also has other tricks up its sleeve that allow it to survive in its nutrient-poor environment: in contrast to most animals, which are not capable of recycling their waste products and must excrete them, the worm can make further use of these, again thanks to its symbiotic microbes. The symbionts are true recycling masters when it comes to use products t
|Contact: Manuel Kleiner |