The ‘termites of the sea’ have super weird digestive systems, and they might help us make biofuels
The Washington Post - 11/11/2014
Shipworms were already weird animals, but they just got weirder. The ocean-dwelling clams, which actually look much more like slimy worms, are some of the only creatures in the world that can eat wood. Now scientists have figured out that shipworms are even more unique than we thought: Instead of breaking down their food using bacteria in their guts (the way basically almost all animals do), shipworms break down wood using bacteria in their gills.
This revelation was published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, with research lead by Daniel Distel, director of the Ocean Genome Legacy Center of New England Biolabs at Northeastern University. Distel, along with researchers from the U.S. Energy Department’s Joint Genome Institute, is interested in harnessing the shipworm’s unique ability to digest wood to improve the production of renewable, environmentally friendly fuels.