Worm defies tradition, stores gut bacteria in gills instead
Discover - 11/14/2014
Animals that subsist on wood usually need help. Studies of termite guts, as well as wood-eating fish and beetles, have found specialized bacteria that break down the tough plant materials the animals themselves can’t. Even humans and other omnivores and carnivores get a digestive hand from microbes. The abundant bugs in our intestines play a role in breaking down our food and getting the nutrients out.
Yet the digestive tract of Bankia setacea is weirdly empty.
Daniel Distel, a scientist at Northeastern University who studies symbiotic relationships in marine life, says researchers have known since the 1970s that shipworms keep plenty of bacteria in their gills (even though their guts are vacant). “It has been suspected for some time that they contribute to wood digestion by the host,” he says.