Thursday, October 09, 2008
Worms in the UK have evolved rapidly into new species capable of using an abundant food supply - poisonous heavy metals. Abandoned mine sites in England and Wales have spawned earthworms which ingest soil with lethal levels of metals like copper and lead - and even arsenic - and excrete them in a less dangerous form. Mark Hodson of the University of Reading says, "These worms seem to be able to tolerate incredibly high concentrations of heavy metals, and the metals seem to be driving their evolution." British researchers are investigating whether the worms (identified as new species but yet to be formally names) could be introduced to polluted land, such as old industrial sites, to help make it fit for other forms of life.