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The catastrophe caused by ship worms remains a mystery for thousands of years in the United Kingdom

The catastrophe caused by ship worms remains a mystery for thousands of years in the United Kingdom

To understand how ship worms eat firewood, we need further research on non-enzymatic or other unknown mechanisms of lignin digestion.

Shipworms are omnivores to the tree, they have been destroying shipwrecks and docks for thousands of years, and they cause billions of dollars in damage every year, and scientists have long ignored these worms, so we still don’t know how these marine creatures digest so many plant things Wood!

Recently, a team of scientists from the Gudell Laboratory (Department of Microbiology) at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in the United States and the Enzyme Discovery Center at the University of Portsmouth in the United Kingdom attempted to answer this historical question. Study Published on July 12 in Biology Boundaries.

Stephanos Stravoviris, a graduate student in microbiology at Amherst University in Massachusetts and a leading researcher in the study, says: News release We linked the complete genes of the 5 types of symbiotic bacteria that live in the gills of ship worms to specific protein groups, which produce enzymes that can digest lignin (a complex chemical compound that is often extracted from wood, a quarter of which is about a third of its dry mass), to no avail.

Scientists have tried to solve the mystery of the ability of ship worms to digest wood with such insane speed (Michael Cadeton-Flickr)


Ship worms are not really worms, but rather a small group of oysters obligated to live in salt water, with very small shells, and they are known for digging up and smashing wooden structures such as ships, harbors and wooden vessels, which are sometimes called “ants”. The white sea of ​​molluscs is also known as the Trido worm.

Shipworms have a long criminal history, destroying the ships of Christopher Columbus, knocking down Spanish Armada, demolishing the docks of San Francisco, endangering the British Formouth Bridge and closing in 1980.

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However, unlike other tree-eating organisms in the ground – such as termites – ship worms do not seem to handle lignin in the same way because they do not usually have the enzymes that break down this hard substance.

Shipworms caused a number of catastrophes in the 1980s, including danger to the Bermouth Bridge (David Rustens-Flickr)

Scientists have long believed that this problem, which was a major challenge in the age of wooden boats, was behind a partner in crime, and that some microorganisms contain enzymes that can digest lignin, and that symbiotic bacteria contain these enzymes in ship worms that help her work.

What confuses scientists is that the nutritious part of the worm-targeting tree is cellulose, which is usually covered with a very dense layer of lignin, which is hard to digest, meaning it is a very dense and unbreakable egg-like shell.

Holes made by ship worms in fossil cone wood from the Cretaceous (James St. John-Flickr)

How do ship worms eat firewood?

According to Article Published in ScienceAlert, all previous research has failed to identify any enzymes known to break down lignin, and research to date has yet to unravel the catastrophe caused by these mysterious worms.

“We need more research on non-enzyme or other unknown mechanisms of lignin digestion, to understand how ship worms eat wood, and to publish more research in the future, which will help solve this puzzle,” says Strapovidis.

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