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US News Worms on the Seafloor That Gobble up Methane Through Their Skin Discovered

03:10  04 april  2020
03:10  04 april  2020 Source:   newsweek.com

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Scientists exploring the deep sea have discovered that tube worms are teaming up with bacteria to sequester methane , a potent greenhouse gas. Methane -consuming serpulid worms on the seafloor off the coast of Costa Rica. Sometimes when animals team up with bacteria living on their bodies

They discovered large circular structures between 250 and 750m below the surface. These are formed when a vent in the Earth's surface releases gases. Mud flows from the seafloor and The eruptions contain many different chemicals. First on the list is methane , otherwise known as natural

a flock of birds sitting on top of a dirt field: Methane-consuming worms found on the seafloor off the west coast of Costa Rica. © Alvin, WHOI Methane-consuming worms found on the seafloor off the west coast of Costa Rica.

Tube-dwelling worms found at the seafloor have been found to act as a methane sink, getting nutrients from bacteria that use the gas as a source of energy. Researchers discovered the worms have an unusual symbiotic relationship with the bacteria, allowing it to cling to their skin and burrow into its tissues.

Only a handful of animals are known to associate with methane-oxidizing bacteria, which act as a biological sink for methane—a potent greenhouse gas—playing a role in limiting its release, and mitigating global warming. Discovering another species that interacts with methane-oxidizing bacteria potentially provides a new insight into the role seafloor creatures play in limiting climate change.

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Through Time. Ancient Seas. Zombie worms (Osedax roseus) eat away at the bones of a dead whale that has fallen to the seafloor . The 1 to 3 inch (2 to 7 centimeter) Osedax worms were first discovered living in the bones of a rotting gray whale on the deep sea floor , nearly 10,000 feet (3

Methane seeps—where methane escapes trapped in the rock below escapes into the ocean—are found across the world. Much of the methane comes from buried organic carbon that has fallen to the bottom of the sea. These seeps provide a source of food for specialized microorganisms that have evolved to consume the gas. They are also an important source of methane to the environment and play a big role in Earth's carbon cycle.

In a study published by Science Advances, researchers led by Shana Goffredi, from the Occidental College in Los Angeles, studied these organisms found at a seep off the west coast of Costa Rica. Here lies a "vast series of seeps," with one found almost every 2.5 miles.

"Because of their unique community structure and significant cycling of carbon, sulfur, and nitrogen, it is increasingly important to understand the trophic interactions between these ubiquitous seep ecosystems and the chemosynthetic animals that they support," the team wrote.

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The velvet worm doesn't have retractable fangs, isn't the size of a deadly snake and doesn't hide in the sand. At the very bottom of the ocean, there are cracks in the sea floor through which methane spews out of the torture chamber in the It will just poke a hole in the skin and go to town on the guts.

Researchers were looking at two species of tubeworm found in these habitats. Previously, these species were thought to have got nutrients through suspension-feeding, consuming minerals suspended in the water. In their tests, however, the team found the worms were part of a symbiotic relationship with the methane-eating bacteria Methylococcales. They discovered the bacteria clung to the worm skin and burrowed in.

"Methanotrophs were not only attached to the epidermal surface of the worms but appeared to be in the process of engulfment by host tissue," the team wrote. "Bacterial cells...appeared deep in the worm tissues, surrounded by intracellular structures interpreted as digestive vacuoles."

Experiments with samples taken from the site showed the bacteria/worm combination were processing methane. The worms, they say, get nutrients from the methane in the bacteria—making them a previously unknown carbon sink.

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An aggregation of methane ice worms inhabiting a white methane hydrate. Most methane hydrates are buried in ocean water so deep that the journey through the water column is too far for “We (and others) have seen CH4 reaching the atmosphere from seafloor sources, notably on the East Siberian

A worm -like creature that burrowed on the seafloor more than 500 million years ago may be key to the evolution Scientists and conservationists are proposing that up to half of Earth’s land and oceans be protected for nature. Cuckoos make other birds look after their eggs, but the birds are fighting back!

The range these worms covered was found to be huge, with both species found almost 1,000 feet further away from the methane seep than other organisms. The authors say the findings should be taken into account when considering deep-sea conservation: "These newly discovered methane-reliant animals are commonly found at seeps and vents worldwide and extend the boundaries of the 'seep' habitat classification that is increasingly important for regulatory and stewardship efforts concerning fisheries and oil drilling in the deep sea," they conclude.

John Priscu, from Montana State University, who was not involved in the research, said that while some methane is consumed by bacteria, much ends up in the atmosphere where it acts as a greenhouse gas, warming the planet. The methanotrophic bacteria can act as biofilters for methane reducing its flux to the atmospheric methane pool, while at the same time providing new organic carbon to the environment in which they live, he told Newsweek.

"I see the results of this seminal study as opening new doors into our understanding of biologically mediated methane dynamics on our planet and in particular the role of microorganisms as a biofilter for atmospheric methane."

John Pohlman, a research chemist at the U.S. Geological Survey, who was also not involved, told Newsweek: "Based on my experience of studying ecosystems within karst subterranean estuaries that depend on methane as a form of nutrition, these are very interesting findings. This form of symbiosis, where the host maintains the methane-consuming symbiont externally and then digests it, is a relationship I am unfamiliar with for marine invertebrates.

"To my knowledge, these kind of symbiont-engulfing worms are more widespread around deep-ocean seeps than other seep-associated organisms and the nature of how they acquire nutrients through that symbiosis would extend the known habitat for seep ecosystems and our appreciation for how methane supports deep-sea ecosystems."

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