Biologists uncover secret of unique crab’s acid-resistance

(ORDO NEWS) — An international team of researchers has discovered a way an unusual crab survives in some of the most acidic waters on the planet, capable of dissolving human skin.

Throughout the oceans there are hydrothermal springs , from which heated water rich in minerals constantly beats.

The temperature in such a source reaches 400 degrees Celsius, and the water can contain both relatively harmless calcium or silicon, and dangerous metal sulfides, toxic to most known living organisms.

However, off the southeast coast of Gueishan Island , located near Taiwan, lives a unique crab Xenograpsus testudinatus, which feels quite comfortable in very acidic water (its pH reaches 1.52, which is comparable to the acidity of gastric juice), in which a huge amount of hydrogen sulfide.

In such high concentrations, this substance is toxic to most living organisms, and a team of researchers from Taiwan and Germany had to work hard to uncover the secret of the unique crab’s resistance.

The researchers collected water samples and fished out some crabs to conduct laboratory experiments.

It turned out that the secret of the crab is in its unusual gills hidden under the shell: they serve to neutralize dangerous hydrogen sulfide by oxidizing it to thiosulfate or by binding to hypotaurine to form less toxic thiotaurine .

Once formed, thiotaurine becomes food for special bacteria that live on the gills, which decompose the toxic substance and allow the crab to breathe freely.

Scientists also suspect that bacteria additionally share nutrients with the crab host, forming an effective symbiosis with it : while the arthropod provides them with a reliable shelter, unicellular organisms do not allow harmful hydrogen sulfide to burn delicate gills.

Biologists uncover secret of unique crabs acid resistance 2
Conditions in hydrothermal springs off the coast of Kueishan are among the most severe on the planet

Such a unique adaptation allowed the crab to become the only multicellular organism in its ecosystem and, as a result, get rid of the pressure of predators and competing species.

Busily sorting through the substrate on the slopes of an underwater volcano, these unusual arthropods do not seem to notice that they have been swimming in boiling acid for many generations.

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