Shipworms play critical roles in recycling wood in the sea. Symbiotic bacteria supply enzymes that the organisms need for nutrition and wood degradation. Some of these bacteria have been grown in pure culture and have the capacity to make many secondary metabolites. However, little is known about whether such secondary metabolite pathways are represented in the symbiont communities within their hosts.
The “wooden-steps” hypothesis [Distel DL, et al. (2000) Nature 403:725–726] proposed that large chemosynthetic mussels found at deep-sea hydrothermal vents descend from much smaller species associated with sunken wood and other organic deposits, and that the endosymbionts of these progenitors made use of hydrogen sulfide from biogenic sources (e.g., decaying wood) rather than from vent fluids.