April 15, 1912. In the wee hours of the morning, hundreds of panicked souls faced inevitable death in the icy North Atlantic waters as the most fantastic luxury liner ever built broke apart and sank beneath the placid surface. Though the R. M. S. Titanic never completed her maiden voyage, the doomed ship and her passengers quickly became the stuff of legend.

One hundred years later, a new kind of disaster threatens Titanic. Scientists report that bacteria are making a meal out of the vessel’s wreckage. They’ve even discovered a new strain of microbe amid “rusticles” recovered from the ship. Dubbed Halomonas titanicae, this bacterium is especially voracious in its consumption of the wreckage. Lead researcher Henrietta Mann estimates that the bacteria could reduce the ship to a mere rust stain within 15 to 20 years.

As something of a Titanic enthusiast, I admit the idea of the ship’s total destruction saddens me. I’m not alone. National Geographic reports that some experts would like to make efforts to halt the decay process and preserve the wreck for future generations. But others recognize the benefits of allowing nature to take its course because “Ultimately, such deep-dwelling, metal-eating microbes could teach engineers how to protect offshore oil rigs or dispose of other ships.”

RTB founder Hugh Ross is among those who see immense value in bacteria in general. On an episode of Science News Flash (December 10, 2010), he discusses not only the Titanic research reports, but also points out the many ways bacteria support life on planet Earth. For example:

  • Bacteria are extremely efficient at pollution cleanup, from ship wrecks to oil spills.
  • Bacteria are also proving capable of disposing of radioactive waste.
  • Bacteria spent 3 billion years preparing Earth’s elements and atmosphere for complex life.

Hugh believes bacteria reveal God’s care for aquatic and terrestrial life by cleaning up messes, whether natural or manmade. He points to bacteria’s ability to adapt to changing circumstances, such as Titanic’s sinking or the British Petroleum oil spill, and to develop new strains for dealing with them. Despite bacteria’s “bad press,” they are showing themselves to be invaluable and intelligently designed members of Earth’s community.

— Maureen

Resources: For more on bacteria, check out these RTB materials.

Extra: I Didn’t Know That! – April 10, 2012 (podcast) – listen to the last few minutes of the show as Sandra attempts to stump the scholars with a bit of Titanic trivia.

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