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Bone-eating Zombie Worms

In 2002, scientists from the the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) discovered deep-sea worms that feasted on, and helped dispose of, skeletons of whales and other large sea animals. The worms belong to the Osedax family and extracted nutrients from bones without any means of drilling into them.
Scientists were perplexed when they only discovered females but further investigation revealed that the males remained in their microscopic larval stage, living inside the female worms.

The unusual group's name Osedax is Latin for "bone devourer", and the worms have no mouth, gut or anus yet are still able to remove nutrients from bones.

A team led by Dr. Sigrid Katz of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography have figured out how they do it. The worms use chemistry!
By analysing the worms' tissues, the team found that acid-secreting enzymes were abundant in the root-like parts that attach to bones.

"The acid is secreted through the skin of the roots region," said Dr Katz.
Osedax marine worm green "root" structure (c) Greg Rouse The acid released from the green-coloured "root" demineralises the bone

"The skin cells in this region are very long cells and the upper end has lots of [microscopic protrusions, which] enlarge the surface multiple times, so lots of acid can be secreted," she explained.

So these worms are not only bone-eaters, but acid-spewers as well. Link -via Breakfast Links

(Image credit: Greg Rouse)

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Scientists were perplexed when they only discovered females but further investigation revealed that the males remained in their microscopic larval stage, living inside the female worms.

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