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Discovery of new microscopic species expands the tree of life

Legendrea loyezae with hanging tentacles. Credit: Bournemouth University

Scientists have discovered several very rare species of microorganisms, some of which have never been seen before and others that have escaped the prying eyes of scientists for more than a hundred years.

The discovery of these elusive species, published in the scientific journal PROTIST, was made by an offbeat duo who never met in person; Professor Genoveva Esteban of Bournemouth University and James Weiss, an independent scientist who operates in his private laboratory in Warsaw, Poland, with his two cats.

His approach to science and the discovery of these new and rare organisms will help scientists and the public learn more about life at the microscopic level. They also hope that it will inspire thousands of young people to science and demonstrate the importance of microscopic life for everyone on the planet.

Microorganisms are made up of a single cell and are at the bottom of the food chain. They live all around us and can be found in any habitat, from small puddles to vast oceans; there is still much to discover about them.

“Biodiversity at the microscopic level is not as well known as other areas of nature, despite the fact that entire ecosystems depend on it,” explains Professor Esteban.

“Some of these species are completely new and others have not been seen for over a century. We documented many curious behaviors in them and carried out DNA analysis of them for the first time.”

Discovery of new microscopic species expands the tree of life

Apertospathula, a microbe new to science. Credit: Bournemouth University

“This means that we can understand more about their relationships with other microbes and find new branches in the tree of life,” continued Professor Esteban.

Very rare and new microorganisms include loyezae legend.

Professor Esteban said: “We don’t know what the name of this organism is; the French description of over 100 years doesn’t include the origin of the name, but we suspect it was after a person since ‘Legendre’.” It’s a common French surname.”

They have also discovered a new Lacero, meaning “having ragged edges” due to the jagged appearance of the cell borders, as well as a new apertospatula, meaning “ventral mouth opening”.

The new species have not yet been assigned names, but Weiss hopes to name them with contemporary fictional references that will appeal to 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 one of the main factors in the evolution of more complex life in the early ages of Earth,” Weiss explained.

Discovery of new microscopic species expands the tree of life

A new Lacerus with a serrated cell edge. Credit: Bournemouth University

“As prey developed better defenses, predators needed to develop better ways to catch them. After the evolution of complex, multicellular life, they became the main food source for others, such as krill and plankton, which sometimes in turn they are food for larger species. If the organisms at the bottom were removed, all other parts of the food chain above them would also collapse,” he added.

The duo worked together for eighteen months and investigated thousands of samples from bodies of water, mainly from Poland, but also from all over the world.

“We knew no one else would look for them and no other research on microbes has involved such an intense search,” said Professor Esteban.

“As with all forms of wildlife viewing, 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 in each sample, they were able to study their DNA and identify those that were new to science and others that were extremely rare and required a specialist. dr Demetra Andreou, a molecular ecologist at Bournemouth University, also brought her expertise to the team.


Loggerhead sea turtles host a diverse community of miniature organisms


Information:
James Weiss et al, The Extraordinary Rare Ciliate Fauré-Fremiet, 1908 (Haptoria, Ciliophora), protist (2022). DOI: 10.1016/j.protis.2022.125912

Provided by Bournemouth University


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