Multi-celled sea creature can live without oxygen 311.
(photo credit: Judy Siegel-Itzkovich)
The Mediterranean Sea will not become more salty due to the growth of
desalination plants that leave salt residue behind, according to an Italian
expert who participated in a decade-long census of world marine life. Instead,
said Prof. Roberto Danovaro of the Polytechnic University of Marché, the melting
of Arctic glaciers due to global warming will make the Mediterranean and oceans
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The head of the department of marine science at the Italian
university was speaking in Jerusalem on Monday at a workshop held at the Israel
Academy of Science and the Humanities to mark the end of the census, in which
2,700 scientists from 80 countries, including Israel, participated.
total of $650 million was spent by US, European and other sources for the
first-ever project, which documented the presence of some 250,000 species at
various depths, from microscopic creatures to whales. Nevertheless, scientists
believe that 750,000 more marine species remain to be
Danovaro, on his first visit to Israel, said at the workshop
that the Israeli scientists had been very valuable to the project. Besides
discovering some 1,200 new marine species through sampling and observation, the
multinational team discovered that marine life was richer than previously
believed, as well as more interconnected and more altered due to environmental
influences. There were also large areas still unexplored, he told an audience of
80 scientists, including immunologist and academy president Prof. Ruth Arnon,
and university students in the field.
“We now have a benchmark for
development and will be able to see changes in marine creatures as the years
pass, and, it is hoped, repair damage that man has caused them,” he
Some 40 experts at 25 institutions in countries that lie along the
Mediterranean Sea participated in the effort to estimate and study its
Although the body of water on Israel’s west coast comprises
only 0.8 percent of the world’s seas, it contains 6% of its marine life, said
Danovaro. But larger species such as sharks have nearly been wiped out by
pollution, fishing and other causes, leaving smaller creatures, such as nematode
worms, to thrive.
At the beginning of the census, Danovaro discovered a
multi-celled sea creature near Crete that was the first known to live in an
environment that totally lacks oxygen.
It is found in salt pockets at a
depth of 3.5 kilometers – a very hostile environment and as salty as the Dead
Sea. It receives its energy, he said, by bonding with sulfates and sulfides in
Tel Aviv University expert Prof. Yossi Loya said this
discovery was very important to understanding the beginning of life on Earth and
thinking about life beyond.
Researchers are planning to conduct genetic
mapping studies on the organism to learn more. The photos of the loricifera show
it stained pink in the lab to make its organs more prominent, and an egg is
clearly seen inside.
Jesse Ausubel, a co-founder of the global project
who works for Rockefeller University and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, joked
that “the complexity of Jerusalem and Israel makes the census of world marine
life seem easy.”
Knowledge about marine biodiversity was sought not only
out of scientific curiosity, but to see the effects of the growing use of the
oceans and seas for oil and gas exploration, fishing trawlers, communications
cables, wind propellers and undersea wave machines.
with nature has also created a great deal of noise that affects the organisms
below, Ausubel said.
The huge amount of data was obtained from old maps
and archives, testing, sampling and even examining water stored in small
discarded bottles to investigate the microbes inside. New habitats in mud
volcanoes or even living off the bodies of dead sharks that fell to the sea bed,
or “dollhouses” intentionally left to sink, have been created. Ausubel said that
a lobster he discovered – dinochelus ausubeli – was named for his family, and
his mother wears a Tshirt with its image.A Science and Health Page
feature on the workshop will appear on Sunday, January 2.