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Bizarre bone worms emit acid to feast on whale skeletons
Date:4/30/2013

Only within the past 12 years have marine biologists come to learn about the eye-opening characteristics of mystifying sea worms that live and thrive on the bones of whale carcasses.

With each new study, scientists have developed a better grasp on the biology of Osedax, a genus of mouthless and gutless "bone worms" that make a living on skeletons lying on the seafloor. In the latest finding, scientists at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego describe how the wispy worms are able to carry out their bone-drilling activities. As published in the May 1 online edition of the Proceedings of the Royal Society B (Biological Sciences), Martn Tresguerres, Sigrid Katz, and Greg Rouse of Scripps detail how Osedax excrete a bone-melting acid to gain entry to the nutrients within whale bones.

"The acid presumably allows the worms to release and absorb collagen and lipids that are trapped in bone," said Tresguerres. "This model is remarkably similar to how mammals repair and remodel bone, however Osedax secrete acid to dissolve foreign bone and access nutrients."

In their report, the scientists describe a process in which the worms use a "proton pump" to secrete acid onto the bone. Tresguerres says similar acid-secreting enzymes exist in all other organisms, such as in human kidneys to handle blood and urine functions.

Because they lack mouths, bone worms must use an alternative method of consuming nutrients from whale bones. Bacteria that live symbiotically within the worms are involved in this process, however, the exact mechanism is not yet fully understood. Some evidence suggests that the symbiotic bacteria metabolize bone-derived collagen into other diverse organic compounds, and that the worms subsequently digest the bacteria for their own nutrition.

"The Osedax symbiosis shows that nutrition is even more diverse than we imagined and our results are one step closer in untangli
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Contact: Mario Aguilera or Robert Monroe
scrippsnews@ucsd.edu
858-534-3624
University of California - San Diego
Source:Eurekalert

Page: 1 2

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