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Microbes are everywhere. In our kitchen, on our skin, deep in the sea, even in the coldest and hottest environments on Earth. They play a key role in the circulation of elements in every ecosystem. Recently, they found another place suitable for decomposition, this time created by humans and an iceberg. That place is the wreck of Titanic.
The Story of Titanic
The Unbreakable Ship
The Royal Mail Ship (RMS) Titanic was, due to the White Star operator, supposed to be the greatest construction of mankind. It was about to beat the speed record on the route from England to America, and it was the biggest liner of its time, 269 meters (882.5 feet) long and 28.2 meters (92.8 feet) wide at the widest point.
On April 10th the ship left the port in Southampton, England, and began the journey to New York. It carried one of the richest people in the world. Captain Edward J. Smith was called ‘a Millionaire’s Captain’ because of his popularity among wealthy crusaders. Among other passengers, the ship carried hundreds of immigrants from Europe, following the American Dream.
The bridge received information about the danger of icebergs before it entered the dangerous area. The warnings were sent from other ships at 9:40 pm (that message never reached Titanic) and 10:55 pm (which was ignored). The liner turned a little, but it didn’t slow down. The crow’s nest noticed the iceberg at about 11:40 pm, despite the bad weather and missing binoculars.
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The ship turned, however, didn’t avoid the collision. The iceberg scraped the starboard side and started to fill with water. The nearby vessels and boats were either online or too far away to help. The lifeboats only rescued 705 people because most of them weren’t fully loaded. The ship sunk at 2:20, more than 1,500 passengers drowned in the icy waters.
Microbes on the Wreck
New Species of Bacteria
The wreck was discovered long after the catastrophe. In 1985 Robert Balland found an amazingly preserved wreck. Scientists began to explore the wreck. In 1991 marine biologists took a sample of rust from the wreck. After years of research, the team of Dr. Cristina Sanchez-Porro isolated the new species of bacteria. Halomonas titanicae is a gram-negative proteobacterium, named after the ship. It is one of the microbes ‘eating’ the wreck. It could help clean up the human-made trash laying down in the oceans. However, it could be dangerous for deep-sea objects like submarines.
The Future of Titanic
According to recent research, that once a five hundred tons pile of metal will be gone within two decades. Halomonas titanicae consumes the iron, which is what the ship is mostly made of. Two separate parts of the Titanic wreck are about to become just stains of rust, marking the place of catastrophe. Dr. Henrietta Mann, the adjunct professor of civil engineering concluded that ‘The rusticles on Titanic are made from a composition of different micro-organisms. It’s not just one species of bacteria munching on it.’
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The Memory Remains
Preserving the wreck is impossible, as it lays 3.7 km (2.3 miles) under the sea level. Until the wreck decomposes it can still be a source of data and a material for research, as more things become visible. For example, we still don’t know if the bacteria was on the wreck when it sunk, or if it’s unique for the Titanic’s remains. The historians will preserve small objects, for example, personal souvenirs and mailboxes. After that, it will only remain in documents and memories.