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Seafloor animal cued to settle, transformed by a bacterial compound

An adult tubeworm, in its tube, with its plume of tentacles extended. Credit: Freckelton et al. 2022

Most bottom-dwelling marine invertebrate animals, such as sponges, corals, worms and oysters, produce tiny larvae that swim in the ocean prior to attaching to the seafloor and transforming into juveniles. A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) and led by University of Hawai‘i (UH) at Mānoa researchers revealed that a large, complex molecule, called lipopolysaccharide, produced by bacteria is responsible for inducing larval marine tubeworms, Hydroides elegans, to settle to the seafloor and begin the complex processes of metamorphosis.

“This is a major milestone in understanding the factors that determine where larvae of bottom-living invertebrates settle and metamorphose,” said Michael Hadfield, senior author on the paper and emeritus professor in the UH Mānoa School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology. “It is the key to understanding how benthic communities are established and maintained on all surfaces under salt water, that is, on 71% of Earth’s surface.”

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