Shipworms are long, thin mollusks famed (and feared) for their ability to eat wood. They rely on bacterial partners to break the wood down into nutrients they can use. Studying these bacteria could reveal more efficient ways to use the wood and plant waste generated on land, says marine biologist Dan Distel.
Scientists are turning to shipworms and other mollusks as a potential source of new compounds for human medicine. The discovery by researchers of Northeastern’s Ocean Genome Legacy Center of a bizarre shipworm, and the bacteria that help it survive, provides an opportunity to look for new antibiotics or chemicals that might help in the treatment of cancer and other diseases.