Recently have scientists discovered a deep-sea worm that, together with a bacteria, feeds on methane gas on the ocean floor. This article look at these findings and explore what we know so far about these worms.
Two kinds of worms that live at the bottom of the ocean floor, along with their engagement with methane vents (as well as other kinds of ocean floor vents), have been the subject of interest and study for the past few years. These are the Laminatubus and Bispira worms. Although this relationship has been studied since 2017, it was only recently that the findings were published and made quite the splash on the Internet. The worms are studied using remote-controlled submarines which go a whopping 1800 meters (5906 feet) below the ocean surface to the methane vents. Until recently, the worms’ interactions with the vents was a mystery to scientists, but they have recently discovered a symbiotic relationship (meaning both organisms benefit from each other) between the worms and a bacteria belonging to the Methylococcaceae family. The bacteria latch onto the feathery plumes of the worms, which act as breathing tubes, in order to extract carbon and energy from the methane molecules being released from the vents. The scientific term for organisms that are able to do this is ‘methanotrophs’. This makes sense since methane is made up of both carbon and hydrogen, but the fact that bacteria are able to absorb individual elements from a compound is incredible to us.
So, what makes this relationship between the bacteria and worms symbiotic? Well, as the bacteria feed on the carbon and energy from the methane vents, the worms gradually digest the bacteria, thus consuming the same carbon and energy that they feed on. In that way, as the bacteria are methanotrophs, the worms also become methanotrophs. Methane is one of the most potent of green house gases, and contributes significantly to global warming, and these worms could potentially be positively contributing to the clean-up of greenhouse gases that would otherwise enter the atmosphere.
All the way back in 2013, Johnny Botemps at AstrioBio.net wrote an article about worms that had been discovered in 2006 which actually bolstered the release of methane gas in the oceans. He explains that the methane gas released by those worms was not likely to reach the atmosphere and “exacerbate global warming” because the methane would be consumed by biological activity. The Laminatubus and Bispira worms are examples of such activity! It is also the general consensus among most sources that the discovery of these worms is a positive thing, not only because of what it tells us about evolution (finding new food sources), but also what it tells us about potential new methods of cleaning up fossil fuels we have at our disposal.
In conclusion, the discovery of the symbiosis between the Laminatubus and Bispira worms and the methanotroph bacteria is exciting for many reasons! Hopefully, more information about these worms will be released soon as more discoveries are sure to be made. We hope that our readers found this topic as interesting as we did, and that you are safe and well during these odd times.