Lithoredo abatanica is an organism with a strange urge for food: This creature eats stone. And when it excretes, what comes out is sand, the leftovers of a nonetheless-mysterious digestion course of. The mollusk, unearthed from the underside of a river within the Philippines, was revealed this week by a world group of scientists in Proceedings of the Royal Society B. It’s a shipworm, a gaggle of burrowing animals associated to clams, however so wholly different from identified examples that it’s each a brand new species and genus.
Shipworms are often identified for their behavior of consuming wood. They use their shells, connected to one end of their bodies, as chewing gadgets to burrow into and eat ship bottoms, docks, and some other submerged wood. The habit has made them the plague of mariners old and new, and in current occasions, they’ve even sampled the delights of at least one New York Metropolis pier.
Wood-consuming shipworms fascinate scientists as they digest pulverized wooden with the assistance of symbiotic microorganisms that reside in their gills. The organism manufactures an array of enzymes and different substances, and finding out about them and discovering new shipworms could prove useful with the seek for new antibiotics, a topic of curiosity to the scientists behind the brand new paper.
They first heard reviews of a mysterious shipworm within the Abatan River on Bohol Island some years in the past, from an expedition organized by the French Nationwide Museum of Pure Historical past. Reuben Shipway and Daniel Distel of Northeastern College, members of the Philippine Mollusk Symbiont Worldwide Collaborative Biodiversity Group, went seeking the creatures with snorkeling masks and chisels in tow. The cecum, a large organ utilized in digesting wooden that’s widespread throughout shipworms, was lacking within the new species. The shipworms’ guts, nevertheless, have been filled with fragments of stone, which chemical evaluation confirmed to be the same stone that the animals have been dwelling in. What got here out was stone, too.
Precisely what the shipworms are getting from the stone isn’t but clear. One chance, the researchers speculate, is that the granules may very well be helping them to grind up plankton and different creatures floating within the water, a lot the best way gizzard stones assist birds in breaking down meals they’ve swallowed whole.
However, it might be that the worms are in a position to extract vitamins from the stone in a method not but understood. The gills of the stone-consuming shipworms are a lot bigger than different shipworms’, suggesting that the organ’s tiny inhabitants could also be notably necessary to the creature’s survival. The workforce is now engaged in sequencing the genomes of L. abatanica’s symbionts to determine them and get a glimpse of how their metabolism works.