Eat the Titanic? Or, Biological Relay Chat.
April 18, 2011 12:56 PM   Subscribe

In 2000, microbial ecologist Roy Cullimore and Charles Pellegrino (author of Ghosts of the Titanic) discovered that the Titanic was being eaten by an extremeophile super-organism, transforming the steel into huge pillars of rust. [Previously, regarding the Titanic.]

The super-organism network communicates through a process called quorum sensing, using chemical transmissions to coordinate the work of the bacterium that compose it. (The Quorum Sensing behavior mechanism is also being experimented with as an anti-technique for antibiotic-resistant organisms, shutting down the disease's pathogenic nature in a way that does not select for resistance in the bacterium.)[Previously on bacterial communication.] [Previously on bacterial evolution..]

Dr. Cullimore is a member of an project of the Past Foundation which has been examining a number of these deep wrecks, including ships sunk in the Gulf of Mexico during World War II (the Alcoa Puritan, and as example).

Mr. Pellegrino notes on his website that he was a scientific advisor to James Cameron on 'Avatar' and that the theory for dinosaur making in 'Jurassic Park' came from writings he did. There has been some controversy about his work (see the Wikipedia link above), and he has done some work at addressing it on his site.
posted by mephron (17 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Wasn't there talk of a metallivore worm deep under the East River in NYC?

And on that note, apocalyptic sci-fi authors: Start! your! engines!
posted by The Whelk at 1:02 PM on April 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

Bacteria to Civilization: "You Gonna Eat That?"
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:05 PM on April 18, 2011 [8 favorites]

Clearly, we need to develop accelerants so these super-organisms can devour massive metallic structures much, much more quickly.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:11 PM on April 18, 2011

Bacteria that turns the iron in your blood to a fine rusty powder in 3, 2, 1....
posted by The otter lady at 1:13 PM on April 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

We'll keep a few of these in our back pocket for when SkyNet takes over...
posted by ZenMasterThis at 1:29 PM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

I for one . . .
posted by exlotuseater at 1:37 PM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

The controversy here is all in the breathless tone.

I mean, imagine there was an organizm that oxidizes some chemical or another, say glucose, and that it got into your cells and, could do thermodynamically unfavorable reactions, like the polymerization of phosphate and could signal cell differentiation or even cell death!

They are, of course, real.

And despite the fact that they have their own DNA that looks a whole lot like bacterial DNA, biologists still think of them as "self".
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 1:37 PM on April 18, 2011 [4 favorites]

"Bacteria that turns the iron in your blood to a fine rusty powder in 3, 2, 1...."

You're thinking of pathogens that secrete siderophores, we got 'em already, they're nasty. Life on earth evolved in the presence of significantly more soluble iron than is around today, before it was all oxidized by early plants to create the banded iron formations we can still see today. Fundamental life processes still require iron to work, and so one of the primary ways in which our bodies already fight infections is to keep soluble iron levels in your blood and tissues extremely low using chelating storage proteins like these. There are some pathogens that deal with this strategy by eliminating as many iron requiring processes as possible, but most find some way to scavenge what they need from you by ripping shit apart.

Biology is consistently more weird than anything a Sci-Fi writer could ever come up with.
posted by Blasdelb at 1:48 PM on April 18, 2011 [18 favorites]

Life is amazing, isn't it?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:09 PM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

"The controversy here is all in the breathless tone."

Seriously, though absurd dramatic people saying absurd dramatic, but mostly accurate, things about stuff we've known for decades seems to be the best we can hope for from science journalism.

We've known that critters have been eating the Titanic since Ballard found the damn thing, the work figuring out which critters are doing it isn't theirs, and their speculations about quorum sensing (which I can only find published here on p122 PDF) lack any evidence whatsoever and demonstrate an unfortunate, and easy, lack of understanding of the concept. I'm not saying these guys don't or haven't done good work, but the main article makes them look like idiots.
posted by Blasdelb at 2:11 PM on April 18, 2011

The otter lady: "Bacteria that turns the iron in your blood to a fine rusty powder in 3, 2, 1...."

That's why we discontinued the Scoop Project.
posted by Splunge at 2:20 PM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

The word is extremophile, not extremeophile, even thought extremeo sounds extremier. And oh, oh, no, please not super-organisms! They sound so super scary to me. And they are fucking with the nicest boat ever made, as of course they will, those monsters!
posted by longsleeves at 3:01 PM on April 18, 2011

So the Titanic is not only a historical tragedy and a symbol of hubris, it's also a yummy meal? Cool.
posted by happyroach at 3:30 PM on April 18, 2011

Cool post! I'm gonna come back later and read through the links completely, but in regards to Charles Pellegrino... whatever his relationship to the truth may be, he's certainly a colorful character. His novels Dust and The Killing Star with George Zebrowski are some of the scariest things I ever read. The writing is just serviceable, but the ideas! Fascinating and scary stuff.
posted by Kevin Street at 4:22 PM on April 18, 2011

Or to put it another way, reading Pellegrino is great fun when it's clear that he's making everything up. Haven't read his nonfiction, but from the links and discussion here it sounds like it may not be too trustworthy.
posted by Kevin Street at 4:41 PM on April 18, 2011

Ooh, Dust, I remember that novel. The one that made me vacuum my bed and soak it with Lysol. Fun times.
posted by Splunge at 4:36 AM on April 19, 2011

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