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the extraordinary biology of Osedax

A distinguished colleague of mine as soon as mentioned one thing to me that I’ll always remember: “all the things that isn’t forbidden by the legal guidelines of physics, eventually biology invents it”.
What is definite is that, at occasions, we’re not ready for information that looks like science fiction. In 2004, Australian zoologist Greg Rouse, now on the Scripps Establishment of Oceanography on the College of California introduced the invention of a completely new group of polychaete annelids residing in a really explicit habitat: the skeleton of lifeless whales resting on the underside of the ocean at nice depths. The invention was fairly unintentional and occurred throughout a search with a remotely operated automobile (ROV) – referred to as Tiburon – in Monterey Bay, California, at a depth of 2900 m.

Bone eaters
The brand new style was accurately christened Osedax (“bone eater”) and was cataloged among the many siboglinid polychaetes, along with those who had been as soon as referred to as pogonophores (now vestimentiferans), i.e. these “worms” that populate, amongst different issues, the environment of the hydrothermal springs of nice depths . The invention was, in fact, thrilling to the scientists aboard the mothership, however they might hardly think about what would observe. The distinctive nature of the invention was nonetheless underlined by the truth that the unique article was revealed on Science, a generalist journal which definitely doesn’t publish systematic works. However the quirks of Osedax they don’t seem to be restricted to habitat.

The researchers, who naturally found quite a few new species of the genus through the years (there are presently 25 of them, between 2.5 and seven cm in size, distributed within the deep seas of the entire Earth, between 10 and 4200 m of depth) had been stunned to seek out tons of of dwarf males “hosted” contained in the gelatinous tubes excavated within the bones of the whales by the females. Cautious analysis, additionally by the Rouse group, was in a position to discriminate between numerous hypotheses on the origin of dwarf males (intercourse change throughout life, origin from neighboring populations, differentiation ranging from a single pool of larvae), discovering that the the primary larvae that attain the lifeless whales develop into females, whereas the following ones, by the tons of, become dwarf males, arresting their growth at a really early stage. There may be due to this fact no genetic differentiation of intercourse, however slightly a differentiation environmental equally to what occurs, for instance, in Bonellia (one other annelid). Replica is clearly pushed to the max as as soon as the whale carcass has been totally digested, people of Osedax they’re destined to a tragic finish, however within the meantime the big amount of larvae produced is transported across the sea to search for different corpses to colonize.

The Osedax symbiotes

Picture: from publication

Digging into the bones of a whale to create a house isn’t any imply feat, particularly when you’re a tiny worm a millimeter in diameter! No concern: Osedaxlike many different (all?) life kinds hosts symbionts: he selected them very nicely, in order that, when the feminine worms are in touch with the bones of the cetacean skeletons, and should “take root”, they produce basal extensions with many sub-epidermal micro organism, contained in particular mobile constructions (bacteriocytes ). These micro organism (which belong to the Oceanospirillales, i.e. proteobacteria that reside in depth and in excessive situations) produce acids which permit the “roots” to penetrate the bones and digest collagen and lipids there (whale skeletons include an unlimited quantity of For instance, a 90-ton whale is estimated to have 5 tons of oil in its bones!). The biochemical particulars – now identified – present a implausible instance of convergent evolution with the exercise of osteoclasts (the cells that contribute to the turnover of bone materials) of mammals. The natural materials engulfed by the symbiotic micro organism supplies meals for the Osedax.

A 14-year experiment
Now analysis – once more by Greg Rouse’s productive group – has tried to characterize the plentiful neighborhood of micro organism that colonize theexterior of the assorted species of Osedax. This was executed by observing what occurs to whale carcasses on the underside over time. A lifeless whale was sunk in a identified location in Monterey Canyon at a depth of 1018 m, whereas one other was discovered by probability (found serendipitously, write the authors), simply arrived on the underside at 3239 m within the Davidson Seamount. Samples had been taken by ROV at common intervals, within the case of the sunken whale on the identified location, between 8 and 172 (!) months after deposition.

In the midst ofthe 14 years previous of the examine of the bacterial communities related to the outside of seven totally different species of Osedaxvia molecular research, of metagenomics and microscopy Researchers demonstrated that epibiont communities are 30% Campylobacterales, and that neighborhood compositions are temporally reproducible, dynamic, and metabolically totally different from related free-living people. Genome evaluation has revealed giant abundances of genes coding for secretion programs absent in analogous free-living kinds, maybe to make sure adhesion to hosts and relationships between totally different kinds inside communities.

There are three types of micro organism dominant epibionts: all have affinities for habitats wealthy in natural substances and sulphides, nonetheless the change within the composition of the communities reveals that they’re dynamic. Elements within the change could be the metabolic capabilities of micro organism, regulation by hosts, and chemical adjustments within the surroundings ensuing from the decomposition technique of whale carcasses. The authors conclude: “Our outcomes present proof of a persistent however dynamic relationship between Osedax and particular Campylobacterales epibionts that possess distinctive genomic traits. Nevertheless, the function of the biofilm on the physiology of Osedax stays unknown”.


Rouse GW., SK Goffredi, RC Vrijenhoek. Osedax: bone-eating marine worms with dwarf males Science 2004, 305(5684): 668-71. doi: 10.1126/science.1098650.

Vrijenhoek RC, Johnson SB, Rouse GW. Bone-eating Osedax females and their ‘harems’ of dwarf males are recruited from a typical larval pool. Mol Ecol. 2008 Oct;17(20):4535-44. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-294X.2008.03937.x

Goffredi S, Panossian B, Brzechffa C, Subject N, King C, Moggioli G, Rouse GW, Martín-Durán JM, Henry L. A dynamic epibiont neighborhood related to the bone consuming worm OsedaxPreprint from Analysis Sq.07 Dec 2022 DOI: 10.21203/

Picture: Osedax rubiplumusillustration by David Orr,, NerNite Exp Pack, used underneath the Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic License (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0), by way of Flickr

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