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Tags Current Affairs

Worms that absorb methane from their skin

Date: 04 April 2020 Tags: Biodiversity

Issue

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.

 

Background

Discovering another species that interacts with methane-oxidizing bacteria potentially provides a new insight into the role seafloor creatures play in limiting climate change.

 

Details

  • 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, playing a role in limiting its release, and mitigating global warming.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

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