Microbiology and the Titanic
Colleen Justison (5 PM Micro) was very excited about the centennial observations of the sinking of the Titanic. Here’s Colleen’s summary of what she found from an article in the Regina, Saskatchewan Leader-Post.
Lori Johnson, a microbiologist, went down 4 kilometers into the darkness of the Atlantic Ocean to the “metal graveyard” of the Titanic. Johnson made this two and a half hour trip because she said the wreckage is serene with a biological allure. This was not Johnson’s first dive saying how these dives can become personal. She has been in close proximity to the handrail which makes her wonder if the people who held on there had survived. The Titanic no longer looked like a ship, but twisted up metals. Even though the Titanic had spent a century deteriorating, there are still portions of the ship that still resemble the luxury vessel. Lori Johnson works for Droycon Bioconcepts which studies the degradation of the Titanic as well as other shipwrecks.
Her job for this project was to observe the rusticles, the bacteria that have been feasting on the Titanic. A rusticle is a formation of rust resembling an icicle in appearance that occurs underwater when iron oxidizes. Most of the rusticle is made up of iron, while the rest includes mutualistic or symbiotic microbes. These growths hang from the ship and have multiple colors including blue and orange. She had done other deep sea dives to shipwrecks which were not as emotional as the Titanic, which she thought was dream-like. Scientists for a long time thought that the depths in the ocean where these wrecks too place were sterile and had nothing going on. With this research they are seeing that this is not true and they are observing the biological processes going on. The research can help future building projects in the ocean, seeing what kind of materials can be used and won’t corrode or deteriorate. There are few other organisms that can be seen competing with the rusticles, however when there is light, barnacles can be seen. They have seen that the rusticles have their own life-cycle and they will grow and break off. The researchers are non-invasive because they feel that it is an area that should be respected.