Scientists in Great Britain have discovered several new species of earthworms living at abandoned mine sites. What makes them special? They’ve adapted to live in soils that contain high concentrations of arsenic, lead, and other heavy metals. The worms are able to bind the metals in proteins to protect their wormy insides from the worst toxic effects; thus they are able to survive in places that would kill normal worms.
A few thoughts come to mind:
1. Yes, so basically the worms got superpowers, just like in Spiderman, only with many generations of worm sex and worm death instead of a single spider.
2. Creationists: you’ve been pwned. I’ll be here taking apologies if you don’t want to go to England and deliver flowers, fruit baskets and kettlecorn to Richard Dawkins in person.
3. The article speculates on the possibility of moving the worms to other heavy-metal-contaminated sites and letting them digest the crud out of the world one tailing dump at a time. The protein-bound metals are excreted in a form that’s easily absorbed by plants; the plants, in theory, could then be harvested and, I guess, sequestered somehow. But how would the worms themselves be contained? It strikes me that in the event that a worm gets a good gutfull of arsenic or whatever and then goes for a nice long crawl, it could excrete the contaminants outside the edges of the original contaminated zone and spread the problem around. Or, should they be eaten by birds, shrews, etc…. well, proteins digest, and then you’ve got moved the heavy metals up the food chain where they could bioaccumulate. For that matter, what is eating them now and how are those species being affected? Or is hiding down in old mines keeping them isolated? Google is not giving up the goods. More study is required.