Thursday, May 30, 2013

Deep-Sea Worms Can't Take the Heat

These tube worms, over three feet tall, live off the "smoke" particles from the vent.

  

Hot pink tube worms living on scalding deep-sea hydrothermal vents actually like to keep things relatively cool, according to a study published today (May 29) in the journal PLOS ONE.

Superheated water — at temperatures of more than 750 degrees Fahrenheit (400 degrees Celsius) — spews from the vents. An entire ecosystem clings to the chimneylike columns, with worms and many other species consuming each other and the mineral-laden hydrothermal fluids. Exploring the deep-sea vents helps scientists determine the upper temperature limits for life.

The fleshy pink Pompeii worm (Alvinella pompejana) is one of the most extreme of the deep-sea creatures, perching its long, bristly tubes right next to the shimmering vent fluids. Earlier research had pegged the Pompeii worm's comfort zone as high as 140 F (60 C), far beyond that of other animals. But genetic and protein studies showed the worm's tissues would unravel at such high temperatures, just like raw eggs change when cooked. [Life at the Hydrothermal Seep (Video)]

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