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Bacteria eating away the mighty Titanic to oblivion

world Updated: Dec 07, 2010 13:53 IST

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The wreckage of the Titanic on the ocean floor will soon disappear as it is being rapidly eaten up by a newly discovered bacteria, according to Canadian researchers.The Titantic, the largest passenger ship of the time, sank on its maiden journey from England to New York April 14, 1912, after hitting an iceberg in mid-Atlantic.

Henrietta Mann, a Canadian civil engineering professor at Dalhousie University, says the new bacterial species are eating away the wreckage so fast that soon the Titanic will be reduced to a smear on the ocean bottom. "Perhaps if we get another 15 to 20 years out of it, we're doing good.... Eventually there will be nothing left but a rust stain'', she said. "In 1995, I was predicting that Titanic had another 30 years, but I think it's deteriorating much faster than that now". Using DNA technology, Mann and Bhavleen Kaur from Dalhousie University and researchers from the University of Sevilla in Spain identified a new bacterial species collected from rusticles from the Titanic wreck.

Dark orange in colour, a rusticle is a formation of rust similar in shape to an icicle or stalactite. The wreck is covered with these knob-like mounds, formed by a 'consortium' of at least 27 strains of bacteria, including Halomonas titanicae, which are making a meal out of the famed wreckage. But unlike icicles which are solid and hard, rusticles are porous and allow water to pass through. Indeed, they are rather delicate and will eventually disintegrate into fine powder."It's a natural process, recycling the iron and returning it to nature'' said Mann who studies extreme environments. Their research will now appear in the International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology on December 8.

The Titanic's final resting was discovered by a joint American-French expedition in 1985, almost 73 years after its sinking. The wreck is located 3.8 kilometres below the ocean surface and some 530 kilometres southeast of Newfoundland.The discovery confirmed years of speculation that the ship had split apart as the stern and the bow were located 600 metres apart from each other and were facing opposite directions.