Images: Bacterial Structures Induce Tubeworm Metamorphosis

Adult tubeworm

(Image credit: Brian Nedved)

Hydroides elegans is a tropical/sub-tropical tubeworm notorious for growing on the bottoms of ships and increasing fuel consumption of ships by increasing drag. The animals are amongst many marine creatures that rely on bacteria to go through metamorphosis. Now, new research has revealed syringelike structures produced by bacteria that induce this metamorphosis.

Tubeworm adult, out of tube

(Image credit: Brian Nedved)

An adult H. elegans out of its tube. As adults, the tubeworms feed on algae using fanlike structures that protrude from their heads.

Tubeworm tubes

(Image credit: Brian Nedved)

The tubeworms grow in thick colonies than can interfere with ship piping and ballast.

Tubeworm larva

(Image credit: Brian Nedved)

Tubeworm larvae swim around and develop for about 5 days before looking for a bacterial mat to settle on.

Bacterial colonies

(Image credit: Nicholas Shikuma])

Researchers have found that a bacteria called Pseudoalteromonas luteoviolacea must be present for H. elegans to metamorphose.

Metamorphosis-associated contractile structures

(Image credit: Martin Pilhofer and Gregor Weiss)

he researchers have now identified that the bacteria produces syringelike structures similar to virus tails that appear to be the key to the bacteria's role in the tubeworm metamorphosis. This is a computer-generated image of these so-called MACs.

Juvenile tubeworm

(Image credit: Brian Nedved)

With the help of the bacterial MACs, the tubeworms metamorphose into juveniles, and settle to a surface where they remain stationary for the duration of their lives.

Laura Poppick
Live Science Contributor
Laura Poppick is a contributing writer for Live Science, with a focus on earth and environmental news. Laura has a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a Bachelor of Science degree in geology from Bates College in Lewiston, Maine. Laura has a good eye for finding fossils in unlikely places, will pull over to examine sedimentary layers in highway roadcuts, and has gone swimming in the Arctic Ocean.