In 2000, Roy Cullimore, a microbial ecologist and Charles Pellegrino, scientist and author of Ghosts of the Titanic discovered that the Titanic –which sank in the Atlantic Ocean 97 years ago — was being devoured by a monster microbial industrial complex of extremophiles as alien we might expect to find on Jupiter’s ocean-bound Europa.
What they discovered is the largest, strangest cooperative microorganism on Earth.
Scientists believe that this strange super-organism is using a common microbial language that could be either chemical or electrical -a phenomenon called “quorum sensing” by which whole communities “sense” each other’s presence and activities aiding and abetting the organization, cooperation, and growth.
The microbes are consuming the wreck’s metal, creating mats of rust bigger than a dozen four-story brownstones that are creeping slowly along the hull harvesting iron from the rivets and burrowing into layers of steel plating. The creatures also leave behind “rusticles,” 30-foot icicle-like deposits of rust dangling from the sides of the ship’s bow. Structurally, rusticles contain channels to allow water to flow through, and they seem to be built up in a ring structure similar to the growth rings of a tree. They are very delicate and can easily disintegrate into fine powder on even the slightest touch.
These live mats and rusticles form a communicating super-organism funneling iron-rich fluids, sulfur, and electrical charges through the collective of archea, fungi, and bacteria that thrives in the icy dark, low oxygen waters. Using DNA technology, researchers discovered that the rusticles were formed by a combination of 27 different strains of bacteria. Among the bacteria feasting on the Titanic, there was a brand new member of the salt-loving Halomonas genus.