Move over Angelina Jolie-according to University of Delaware marine biologists, the Pompeii worm is “Earth’s Hottest Animal.” And how could it not be…an invertebrate with a pimp-tastic bacteria fur coat?! Well that, and it can survive even when its butt is bathed in hydrothermal vent fluids as hot as 176˚C.
“While some bacteria thrive at higher temperatures, the Pompeii worm ranks as the most heat-tolerant among complex life forms. The former record holder was the Sahara Desert ant, at 131°F. Discovered in the early 1980s by French scientists, the Pompeii worm (Alvinella pompejana) is about 4 inches long with tentacle-like, scarlet gills on its head. A gray “fleece” of bacteria covers the worm’s back. The worm gets its name from the Roman city of Pompeii, which was destroyed during an eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. The Alvinella in the worm’s scientific name stems from the submersible Alvin.
The Pompeii worm and its bacteria are of interest to industry, as well as the scientific community, because they may yield a variety of products and applications, from new pharmaceuticals to enzymes capable in operating in hot, corrosive, high-pressure environments. Such enzymes can help dislodge oil inside wells, convert cornstarch to sugar, process food and drugs, and support a number of other industrial processes by speeding up chemical reactions.”
Visit the University of Delaware’s web site for a 3-D rotating model of the Pompeii worm, video clips of the worms at hydrothermal vents, and more information about their research on the bacteria that make this worm special: