There is still a great deal to discover about the microorganisms, yet they are all around us and may be found in any environment, from little puddles to vast oceans. And now, scientists have discovered new microscopic species.
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Researchers discovered a variety of extremely uncommon microorganisms, some of which had never been detected before and others that had eluded scientists for more than a century.
These elusive species were discovered by Professor Genoveva Esteban of Bournemouth University and James Weiss, an independent researcher working in his own lab in Warsaw, Poland, with his two cats, and their results were published in the academic journal Protist.
Their method of research and the finding of these novel and rare species will contribute to a better knowledge of microscopic life among the general public and experts. Additionally, they think it will show the importance of microscopic life to everyone in the world and pique the scientific interest of thousands of young people.
Microorganisms are single-celled organisms that are at the base of the food chain. There is still a great deal to discover about them, yet they are all around us and may be found in any environment, from little puddles to vast oceans.
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“Biodiversity at a microscopic level is not as widely understood as other areas of nature, despite the fact that whole ecosystems depend on it,” explained Professor Esteban.
“Some of these species are completely new and others have not been seen for over a century. We documented many curious behaviors on them and carried out a DNA analysis of them for the first time. This means we can understand more about their relationships with other microbes and find new branches for them on the tree of life,” Professor Esteban continued.
One of the extremely rare and novel microorganisms is Legendrea loyezae.
Professor Esteban said, “We don’t know what this organism is named after; the 100-plus-years-old French description doesn’t include the origin of the name but we suspect that it was after a person since “Legendre” is a common French surname.”
A new Apertospathula, which means “ventral mouth opening,” and a new Lacerus, which refers to “having irregular edges” owing to the serrated appearance of cell edges, have also been found.
The names of the new species have not yet been established, but Weiss intends to give them contemporary fictional references that will interest people of all ages.
“Most organisms on the tree of life are microscopic. In fact, most life on Earth has always been microscopic. Microorganisms were the first predators on Earth, their greedy appetites were one of the leading factors of the evolution of more complex life in the early ages of Earth,” Weiss explained.
“As prey developed better defenses, predators needed to develop better ways of catching them. After the evolution of multicellular, complex life they became the main food source for others such as krill and plankton, which in turn are food for larger species. If the organisms at the very bottom were removed, all other parts of the food chain above them would collapse too,” he added.
Over the span of eighteen months, the pair analyzed thousands of samples from water bodies, primarily in Poland but also around the world.
“We knew that no one else would be looking for these and no other research into microbes has involved such intensive searching,” said Professor Esteban.
“As with all forms of wildlife spotting, the more you look, the more you find. By taking so many samples, almost every day, we knew we could find something new. The more we know about the microscopic world, the more we can learn about the rest of their habitats where all other forms of life survive.”
After isolating the microorganisms from each specimen, scientists were able to analyse their DNA and identify those that were novel to science as well as those that were highly rare and necessitated the assistance of a professional. Dr. Demetra Andreou, a molecular ecologist at Bournemouth University, joined the team as well.
Reference: “The Extraordinarily Rare Ciliate Legendrea loyezae Fauré-Fremiet, 1908 (Haptoria, Ciliophora)” by James Weiss, Demetra Andreou and Genoveva F. Esteban, 12 October 2022, Protist.