News: Live vent worms on UCSB campus
gread at actrix.gen.nz
Sun Feb 10 02:57:59 EST 2002
OCEAN VENT CREATURES STUDIED IN SURFACE TANKS
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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