Monday, March 31, 2008

Filaria Nematodus Marinas
(See yesterday's blog)

As a life-long boater who has owned many fiber glass hulls (sailboats and kayaks), I was fascinated by a recent phone conversation with an old friend now working in a marina biology research lab (see yesterday's blog re: confidentiality). It is no secret that ocean going ships have brought us many foreign and unfriendly organisms via their bilge water. Many of them are now pests threatening the great lakes and the marine life there in. This new information, however, may not be a threat to marine life forms as much as to man-made boats. Especially glass hulls.

The marine biology community has long been aware of very deep water organisms with unusual abilities. Most of these specimens, gathered by various bathyspheres and deep diving devices, are of scientific interest but of no practical concern. Until this came along. As was explained to me: in late 2004 a water specimen taken deep in the Pacific near one of the vents that gives off hot and noxious gas contained several one celled and nearly microscopic structures previously unknown to science. Among these was a nematode (flat worm)-like creature that did not fit anything previously known. Although flattened, it had a slightly spiral shape to it and seemed able to flourish only in deep, dark waters near these vents. Most specimens perished shortly after being brought to the surface.

Last year, however, one such specimen survived in the lab in salt water at surface temperatures. Analysis indicate that it was, in fact, a mutant of the original specimens and that the organism reproduced rapidly (I have no idea how they could tell this). This ability to mutate and reproduce apparently made it a fascinating lab subject for researchers who have been studying it ever since. All very interesting, but so what?

It turns out that this unusual life form can also survive in toxic least toxic to us and most known marine life forms. More over, it contains unusual enzyme systems that are described as sophisticated for such a relatively low form. It was when they just happen to use some synthetic containers to house the experiments that they learned some of these enzymes could actually "digest" or breakdown some synthetic materials. This is an amazing find since one would not expect such an animal to have chemicals or enzymes to deal with substances with which it does not normally contact. What is truly disturbing is the fact that one of the substances this creature can denature is very similar to the resin found in fiberglass structures.

Now, before you panic, I was reassured that this animal does not naturally exist near our shores or in any of our inland lakes or great lakes. What concerned my friend (and his colleagues) was that, with its ability to mutate and adapt, this organism just might become a nightmare to us, regardless of where we live/paddle.

And, all the time, I thought crime and crashing surf were my greatest fear. Still, you must admit this is a fascinating find. As my friend is able/willing to tell me more, or when something gets published on this, I will pass it on.

Paddle Safe...



Anonymous said...

Thanks, Silbs, for handling this as promised. I will have more eventually.

JohnB said...

I think that there was something on the Discovery Channel a couple of weeks ago about this--as so often happens I had fallen asleep on the couch in front of the "tube". When I woke up there was a piece on the Discovery Channel about this mutated nematode that had been "harvested" for further study in the lab. But, when they harvested it they had put in a lexan Nalgene bottle, filled with the water it was found in. The bottle was then placed in a temperature controlled container.

When the research vessel got to shore (four days later) and the container was opened in the lab, the Nalgene bottle had lots of pin-holes in it and this nematode had reproduced by what was estimated to be about a thousand fold!

I wonder if this is the same thing?

Silbs said...

Apparently there is more out there about this than I realized. That is, JB, exactly how they stumbled onto all this.

Joshua said...

I hope it doesn't bleed acid. I also spend too many late nights in front of the tube.

Stan Mac Kenzie said...

With all the toxic waters around the world it should be at the surface in no time. This topic does bring one thing to mind and that is cleaning boats brought from one body of water to another, especially if bringing a boat from a lake flourishing with algae to perhaps one that may not be, which happens alot in some places of North Eastern BC, we had to be careful when moving boats around.

Michael said...

These must have been the fellas that ate away my mast stay fittings which resulted in a sudden partial demasting in a crowded seaway. Fortunately we'd been drinking the night before and accidently discovered that pouring stale rum and coke over them caused an instant caughing fit. Would you believe the caughing brought up the mast fittings and restored the mast allowing us to proceed as though nothing had happened? Nature can be so complex sometimes!

Silbs said...

Josh, Stan and Michael, good contributions. I love these scientific discussions.

JohnB said...

For Michael, and others having problems with their masts staying up -- dissolving 3 of your little blue pills (not the purple pills), or other similar meds, in a bottle of club soda, adding a twist of lime, and pouring over the failing parts also works for keeping the mast up, but only in light winds as the parts are rusty and corroded and need to be treated with care.