A rust stain may be all that will remain of the RMS Titanic in 15
to 20 years, according to new research into the submerged ocean
Working at a depth of over two miles, a never-before-seen
bacterial species is devouring the hull of the so-called
“unsinkable ship” on the Atlantic seabed where it sank on April
15, 1912, killing 1,517 people.
Named Halomonas titanicae, the bacterium was isolated
from samples of so-called rusticles present on the wreck.
These dark orange structures look like icicles but are made up of
“The isolate was obtained from rusticle samples collected during
the Akademic Keldysh expedition in 1991, at the site of the
wreck,” Canadian and Spanish researchers write in the latest
issue of the International Journal of Systematic and
Evolutionary Microbiology published on Dec. 8.
Removed from the hull using the articulated arm of the Mir 2
robotic submersible, the rusticles were transferred to plastic
collection bags and transported aseptically to the surface to be
Using DNA technology, the researchers discovered that the
rusticles were formed by a combination of 27 different strains of
Among the bacteria feasting on the Titanic, there was a brand new
member of the salt-loving Halomonas genus.
“We don’t know yet whether Halomonas titanicae arrived
aboard the RMS Titanic before or after it sank,” said lead
researcher Henrietta Mann, at Dalhousie University, Halifax,
Able to adhere to steel surfaces, the new species has led to the
formation of knob-like mounds of corrosion. Covered with such
rust mounds, the wreck of the Titanic is at risk of
disintegrating into dust, as the porous rusticles eventually
dissolve into fine powder.
Discovered in 1985, about two miles below the ocean surface and
some 329 miles southeast of Newfoundland, Canada, the wreck of
the Titanic has been progressively deteriorating.
Originally made up of 50,000 tons of iron, the ship has
dramatically split apart: the stern and the bow lie some 2,000
feet apart in opposite directions.
While potentially dangerous to underwater metal structures like
shipwrecks, as well as offshore oil and gas pipelines, the newly
discovered species could also offer positive applications for
“The new specie of bacteria plays a significant part in the
recycling of iron structures in deep ocean. It could be useful in
the disposal old naval and merchant ships and oil rigs,” Mann
told Discovery News.
According to Bhavleen Kaur, science educator at the Ontario
Science Centre, Toronto, Canada, finding a new species is
important, but even more exciting is the environment found in the
“Out of the consortium of microbes, whose actions are responsible
for the formation of rusticles on the Titanic wreck,
Halomonas titanicae is the first to be fully
characterized and named. How many more novel species are living
within the rusticles? How did they get there or did they evolve
within this artificially created mini-ecosystem?…These microbes
can be an addition to the tool kit when we carry further
investigations into corrosive processes,” Kaur told Discovery