Riddle of worms in very hot water

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Riddle of worms in very hot water

Scientists have been stumped by deep-sea worms which thrive in temperatures almost hot enough to boil water.

The Pompeii worm, Alvinella pompejana, lives around volcanic hydrothermal vents more than a mile-and-a-half deep on the floor of the Pacific ocean.

Fluid gushing from the metal-sulphide "chimneys" of the vents can reach 300C. The four-inch-long worms live in tubes attached to the chimney walls, where their bottom ends simmer at 80C while their tops chill out at a coolish 20C.

Nature journal reported yesterday that scientists think the worms may survive by being insulated by hairy-looking bacterial hitchhikers that coat their bodies.