Boneworms are gutless and mouthless, but somehow they live off the carcasses of whalebones. Now researchers say that the worms produce and secrete an acid that can dissolve bone.
"Trapped inside is collagen and lipids, and we think the worms absorb this," said Martin Tresguerres, a comparative physiologist at the University of California, San Diego, and one of the researchers involved in the study, which appears in The Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
Dr. Tresguerres and his colleagues discovered that boneworms have enzymes called proton pumps on the part of their body that bores into whalebone. These enzymes allow the worm to secrete the acid.
Similar acid-secreting enzymes exist in almost all organisms. In human kidneys, for example, they help handle blood and urinary functions.
The researchers now want to learn more about how the worms transport and use the nutrients they retrieve from whalebones.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.