Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Deep-Sea Worms Can't Take the Heat

Becky Oskin, LiveScience Staff Writer

Date: 29 May 2013 Time: 05:00 PM ET

Hot pink tube worms living on scalding deep-sea hydrothermal vents actually like to keep things relatively cool, according to a study published today (May 29) in the journal PLOS ONE.

Superheated water — at temperatures of more than 750 degrees Fahrenheit (400 degrees Celsius) — spews from the vents. An entire ecosystem clings to the chimneylike columns, with worms and many other species consuming each other and the mineral-laden hydrothermal fluids. Exploring the deep-sea vents helps scientists determine the upper temperature limits for life.

The fleshy pink Pompeii worm (Alvinella pompejana) is one of the most extreme of the deep-sea creatures, perching its long, bristly tubes right next to the shimmering vent fluids. Earlier research had pegged the Pompeii worm's comfort zone as high as 140 F (60 C), far beyond that of other animals. But genetic and protein studies showed the worm's tissues would unravel at such high temperatures, just like raw eggs change when cooked. 

First worms alive on ship
Solving the riddle was tricky because until now, Pompeii worms always died when brought to the surface. "The hottest animal on the planet, but the most difficult to study, summarizes the Alvinella enigma," said Bruce Shillito, a marine biologist at the University Pierre and Marie Curie in France.

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