Osedax are gutless siboglinid worms that thrive on vertebrate bones lying on the ocean floor, mainly those of whales. The posterior body of female Osedax penetrates into the bone forming extensions known as ‘roots’, which host heterotrophic symbiotic bacteria in bacteriocytes beneath the epidermis. The Osedax root epithelium presumably absorbs bone collagen and/or lipids, which are metabolized by the symbiotic bacteria that in turn serve for Osedax's nutrition. Here, we show that Osedax roots express extremely high amounts of vacuolar-H+-ATPase (VHA), which is located in the apical membrane and in cytoplasmic vesicles of root and ovisac epithelial cells. The enzyme carbonic anhydrase (CA), which catalyses the hydration of CO2 into H+ and HCO3−, is also expressed in roots and throughout Osedax body. These results suggest Osedax roots have massive acid-secreting capacity via VHA, fuelled by H+ derived from the CA-catalysed hydration of CO2 produced by aerobic metabolism. We propose the secreted acid dissolves the bone carbonate matrix to then allow the absorption of bone-derived nutrients across the skin. In an exciting example of convergent evolution, this model for acid secretion is remarkably similar to mammalian osteoclast cells. However, while osteoclasts dissolve bone for repairing and remodelling, the Osedax root epithelium secretes acid to dissolve foreign bone to access nutrients.
- Received March 11, 2013.
- Accepted April 10, 2013.
- © 2013 The Author(s) Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.