An Undersize Cousin : A new creature emerges from a drowned forest : The creature was tiny, about the size and color of a grain of rice. And it disappeared before Dan Distel, director of the Ocean Genome Legacy Center at Northeastern University in Boston, could get it back to the lab to be studied.

It was months before he and his colleagues found another one, and Dr. Distel realized the creature resembled the giant mussels found at deep-sea hydrothermal vents, 1,500 feet  [460 meters] below the ocean's surface.

Those mussels have gills that contain bacteria  that let the mussels gain nutrients from corrosive hydrogen sulfide bubbling from the Earth's crust.

But this mussel was tiny and pale and livid a mere 60 feet or so down, DNA analysis soon confirmed that the creature was a new species, which the scientists named Vadumodiolus teredinicola.

Its existence, researchers suggest, could help explain much about its deep-water cousins.

V.teredinicola also harbors symbiotic bacteria that produces its nutrients. And its discovery lends credence to a hypothesis advanced years earlier by Dr. Distel and his colleagues. 

In a paper published in 2000, they suggested that deep-sea mussels might have evolved from shallow water individuals that reached the sea bottom aboard pieces of waterlogged wood.

Dr. Distel and his colleagues discovered the tiny mussel while investigating an ancient underwater forest off the coast of Alabama.

During the last ice age, bald cypresses grew in what was then a swamp far from the ocean. Then, between 45,000 and 70,000 years ago, as the sea levels rose, the trees were swallowed by the advancing sea. [ Veronique Greenwood ]


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