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A new discovery expands the tree of life

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Scientists have discovered several elusive species of microorganisms.

Scientists have discovered new microscopic species.

Researchers have discovered a number of very rare species of microorganisms, some of which have never been observed before and others which have escaped the notice of researchers for more than a century.

Professor Genoveva Esteban of Bournemouth University and James Weiss, an independent researcher working in her own laboratory in Warsaw, Poland, with her two cats, discovered the elusive species and published their findings in the scientific journal Protist.

Their approach to finding and discovering these new and rare species will help the public and scientists understand life at the microscopic level. What’s more, they believe it will demonstrate the importance of microscopic life to everyone in the world and inspire thousands of young people to take an interest in science.


Legendrea loyezae with trailing tentacles. Credit: Bournemouth University

Microorganisms are at the bottom of the food chain and consist of a single cell. They exist all around us and can be found in all environments, from small puddles to huge oceans; there is still much to learn about them.

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

“Some of these species are completely new and others have not been seen for over a century. We have documented many curious behaviors on them and performed a

DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, is a molecule made up of two long strands of nucleotides that wrap around each other to form a double helix. It is the hereditary material in humans and almost all other organisms that carries genetic instructions for development, functioning, growth and reproduction. Almost all cells in a person’s body have the same DNA. Most DNA is found in the cell nucleus (where it is called nuclear DNA), but a small amount of DNA can also be found in the mitochondria (where it is called mitochondrial DNA or mtDNA).

” data-gt-translate-attributes=”[{” attribute=””>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.

The very rare and new microorganisms include Legendrea loyezae.


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

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.”

They have also discovered, a new Lacerus, meaning “having irregular edges” due to the serrated appearance of the cell edges, as well as a new Apertospathula, meaning “ventral mouth opening”.

The new species have not been assigned names yet, but Weiss is hoping to name them with contemporary fictional references that will attract the attention of 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.


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

“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.

The duo worked together for the course of eighteen months, and investigated thousands of samples from water bodies, mainly from Poland, but also all over 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 in each sample, they were able to study their DNA and identify those that were new to science and others which were extremely rare, and they needed a specialist. Dr. Demetra Andreou, a molecular ecologist at Bournemouth University also brought her expertise to the team.

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.
DOI: 10.1016/j.protis.2022.125912

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