Annelid Functional Morphology

Peter Olive p.j.w.olive at
Mon Jun 16 08:01:29 EST 1997

You might like to hear about our recent success in the 
cryopreservation of living fully differentiated larvae of marine 
worms (Nereidae).  In effect we have achieved the preservation in 
liquid N of animals which are the most developmentally advanced 
creatures to be preserved yet.

The results are published in technical form in Cryobioology vol 34 
284 294 under the somewhat daunting title

"Cryopreservation of Nereis virens (Polychaeta, Annelida) larvae: the 
mechanisms of cryopreservation of a differentiated metazoan."

The larvae can be filmed recovering from the preservation process 
during which they are kept at a temperature of about -180 degrees C  
and as they warm up they can be seen to gradually come to life, and 
within a few seconds begin to move - just like rip van winkle 
emerging from his deep sleep.

The work was developed as part of a commercial development in the 
farming of worms and is a good story in applied science.  

Worms are very often dug as bait for marine angling.  While there are 
places where this can be done in a sustainable way (coast of Maine 
USA for instance) in many regions and in Europe in general the harm 
cuased by bait digging is simply not sustainable.  Some 10 years ago 
we launched the worlds first ragworm farm to address this problem 
with a technology transfer from the University of Newcastle upon 
Tyne (UK) to the company Seabait Ltd.  The company set up a 
production unit using the heated sea water from a power station to 
maximise the growth of the worms and last year we produced about 25 
tonnes!.  Because we grow the animals so quickly we needed to have 
babies available on an all year round basis - so that tanks can be 
stocked at all times of the year.  We have achieved this in two ways

i) cryopreservation of the juveniles

ii) changing the breeding season by manipulating the photoperiod - 
yes marine worms are sensitive to the length of day just as we are.

I think both stories would be of interest to the general public as 
would footage of the mass production of these worms which are pretty 
impressive animals.  The Nereis virens can reach up to a metre in 
length though we usually sell them at about 10 inches or so at an age 
of about 6 months.

If you are interested please don't hesitate to contact me.  Our 
experience over the years has been that the public are interested in 
this story for several reasons - the impact of the mass culture of 
marine worms, the conservation envrionmental protection side, and the 
impact of science in a practical business.

Best wishes and good luck with your project

Peter Olive

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