News: Live vent worms on UCSB campus

Geoff Read gread at
Sun Feb 10 02:57:59 EST 2002

 SANTA BARBARA, California, February 7, 2002 (ENS) –

For the first time, scientists have succeeded in bringing some of the 
exotic creatures found around deep sea vents to the surface for live 
 James Childress, a professor of biology and an authority on deep 
sea organisms, brought 15 scarlet-colored tube worms, 12 white 
crabs, and 30 yellow mussels to special high pressure tanks at the 
University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB). 
 Although tube worms have been collected before, this marks the 
first time that deep sea crabs and mussels have been brought back 
alive from the deep. 
 The animals were taken from an area called the East Pacific Rise, 
which is 400 miles south of Manzanilla, Mexico. They were living 
at a depth of a mile and a half below the surface. 
 At that depth, the ocean is very dark and cold and the worms and 
mussels survive by chemosynthesis. They convert hydrogen sulfide 
from the vents as an energy source - instead of light - for the 
synthesis of proteins and carbohydrates. 
 In the tanks they are being provided with hydrogen sulfide, which 
is poisonous to most forms of life. The crabs are eating pieces of 
 The animals, which have been on campus for about six weeks, are 
being studied to understand their physiology and what conditions 
they need to stay alive. 
 To collect the animals, Childress went down to the deep sea vents 
in a three person submersible called Alvin. The deep sea vents are 
like hot springs, and are located in areas where the Earth's tectonic 
plates are moving and there is volcanic activity. 
 Water seeps down through fractured rock, is changed chemically, 
and then shoots up through vents of various sizes. 
 Using a mechanical arm, the pilot collected the animals and put 
them in a special plastic box, which kept the water cool, insulating 
the animals from the very warm temperature at the surface. 
 "When the animals go to lower pressure, they do better with cooler 
temperatures," said Childress. "It's tricky to get them back alive 
and under pressure." 
 Soon, the animals will be moved to a UCSB lab in order for 
scientists to perform additional tests to understand more about their 
physiology. "Currently the tube worms are growing, the mussels are 
attaching and moving around and the crabs are walking around and 
eating," said Childress.

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