The RMS Titanic, which hit an iceberg and sank in 1912 and then was found by searchers in 1977, still has a few mysteries left.   

A brand-new bacterial species dubbed Halomonas titanicae by scientists from Dalhousie University in Halifax and the University of Sevilla, was found aboard the Titanic and is contributing to its deterioration. 

The researchers isolated the
Halomonas titanicae micro-organisms from a 'rusticle' collected from the Titanic, 3.8 km below the ocean surface.

Halomonas titanicae is able to adhere to steel surfaces, creating knob-like mounds of corrosion products, they say, and this bacterial corrosive process is thought to be responsible for the formation of the rusticles – which resemble rusty icicles – that adorn the hull of the Titanic. While these appear to be solid structures, rusticles are highly porous and support a complex variety of bacteria, suggesting that H. titanicae may work in conjunction with other organisms to speed up the corrosion of the metal.

Titanic rusticles Halomonas titanicae
Rusticles on the wreck of RMS Titanic.  Credit: Image courtesy of RMS Titanic Inc.

The Titanic was 50,000 tons of iron and has been progressively deteriorating for the past 98 years.  Dr. Bhavleen Kaur and Dr. Henrietta Mann from Dalhousie University believe that the findings have opened up further areas of research that could have applications for industry.

"We don't know yet whether this species arrived aboard the RMS Titanic before or after it sank. We also don't know if these bacteria cause similar damage to offshore oil and gas pipelines," they said. "Finding answers to these questions will not only better our understanding of our oceans, but may also equip us to devise coatings that can prevent similar deterioration to other metal structures."

Citation: Cristina Sánchez-Porro, Bhavleen Kaur, Henrietta Mann, and Antonio Ventosa, 'Halomonas titanicae sp. nov., a halophilic bacterium isolated from the RMS Titanic', Int J Syst Evol Microbiol (2010); DOI 10.1099/ijs.0.020628-0