New research conducted by a San Diego State University biologist has potentially found a way that some species of bacteria help with barnacle formation at the bottom of vessels.

The research demonstrated how these bacteria triggered organisms such as barnacles and tube worms to change from free-floating larvae into stable adults that usually settle upon a surface such as a ship bottom.

The study has discovered that the interaction of some species of bacteria with tube worm larvae through spear-like appendage leads to the activation of a chain of proteins called MAPK signalling pathway within the larvae.

These proteins help the tubeworms grow from their larval stage to an adult stage.

The research was lead by San Diego State University biologist Nick Shikuma and has received funding from the US Office of Naval Research.

Shikuma studies the life cycles of sea creatures including barnacles, sea squirts, urchins and tubeworms and believes that barnacles and other creatures behave the same way.

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Shikuma said: “Bacteria-induced metamorphosis has been known to happen for almost a century, but no one knows how it works.”

"Bacteria-induced metamorphosis has been known to happen for almost a century, but no one knows how it works."

He also added: “Tubeworms serve as a model organism to understand how bacteria can orchestrate the dramatic development of animals.

“It's largely unknown how the interaction between bacteria and animals leads to normal development, health and wellbeing.”

The process of formation of barnacles and other growth along the bottoms of vessels, known as biofouling, slows down ships and obstructs the readiness of emergency response and military vessels.

The exact process behind biofouling formation could pave the way for developing new technologies to prevent the organisms from attaching to ships.

Image: Biofouling along a boat's hull. Photo: courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Dansker.