Meet Olavius algarvensis: the worm that eats carbon monoxide and hydrogen sulphide

The marine worm Olavius algarvensis

The marine worm Olavius algarvensis (© C. Lott/HYDRA/ Max Planck Institute for Marine Mikrobiology, Bremen)

Eating is actually a big word for the marine worm Olavius algarvensis, since the worm completely lacks a digestive system.

Over the course of evolution the worm has gathered millions of symbiotic bacteria that have found a home under its skin. These bacteria provide the worm with nutrients in such an effective manner that the worm lost the use for its digestive system.


The symbionts are in fact so effective that they, like plants, can turn CO2 into carbohydrates for the worm to use. But unlike plants, the bacteria don’t use light as an energy source, but the highly poisonous carbon monoxide and hydrogen sulphide.

The worms capability to survive in carbon monoxide rich waters and actually use it to its advantage was described in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.


On top of eating carbon monoxide, the worm is a real reclycler. Little waste that still contains chemical energy leaves its body. Its excrements can be used by some of the microbes under its skin.

O. algarvensis’ and its symbionts can thrive in surroundings where other organisms would surely perish. In that it makes for a nice metaphore. Sometimes solid cooperation can turn even the most toxic situations into something productive.

© Jorn van Dooren |

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