Titanic has sank 3,800 meters below the surface of the North Atlantic Ocean since hitting an iceberg and sinking in 1912. The depth of the ocean liner wreck meant it stayed well preserved until it was finally discovered back in 1985. However, we’re now over 30 years on from that discovery and scientists believe the Titanic doesn’t have long left.
Even though deterioration of the ship has been slowed greatly due to the environment it exists within, in 2010 a proteobacteria was discovered on rusticles recovered from the salvage site. It was fittingly named Halomonas titanicae, and its presence and survival means the wreck of the Titanic is being progressively corroded. Current estimates predict that by 2030 we will see a total deterioration of the vessel.
The corrosion that will remove Titanic from the ocean within 14 years is happening thanks to a surprising evolutionary adaptation undergone by the Halomonas titanicae bacteria. It has evolved to regulate the salinity of the water it exists within and therefore survives and thrives in harsh underwater conditions.
Survival comes down to an osmolyte the bacteria produces called ectoine. Osmolytes help to maintain fluid balance and cell volume in the bacteria, and in this case allows Halomonas titanicae to cope with sea water salt concentrations of up to 25%. The salinity of the water where Titanic lies is only 3.5% so it’s a relatively easy life for titanicae.