Microbiology

Aiding shipworms' appetite for destruction

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Science  05 Dec 2014:
Vol. 346, Issue 6214, pp. 1196
DOI: 10.1126/science.346.6214.1196-a

A shipworm removed from its wooden burrow

PHOTO: R. M. O'CONNOR ET AL., PNAS 111, 47 (25 NOVEMBER 2014) © 2014 NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES

Shipworms are in fact mollusks that consume wood. They can cause devastation to wooden ships but they also clean up wreckage. Mollusks cannot eat wood unaided (the lack the right enzymes) so O'Connor et al. puzzled over the absence of symbiotic wooddigesting organisms in the gut of shipworms. To their surprise, they discovered that the gills of a shipworm called Bankia setacea harbored Teredinibacter turnerae bacteria, which produce several wood-digesting enzymes. It seems the shipworm's tissues not only tolerate but also selectively transfer these foreign enzymes into their guts for digesting its formidable meals.

Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 10.1073/pnas.1413110111 (2014).

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