Scientists at Nova Scotia’s Dalhousie University made history when efforts revealed a new branch on the Tree of Life.
The newly found organism (in addition to a previously found one) was collected by Yana Elgit, PhD student.
“The way they behave under the microscope, you won’t immediately spot them… There are likely more representatives in this group that we just simply haven’t met yet,” said Elgit during a news release.
The lesser known, though previously found species is called a Spironema, which has been observed with microscopes only a few times since its discovery in the 19th century.
The species discovered is a Hemimastix kukwesjijk,named after a figure from Mi’kmaq folklore- on the land in which it was discovered. It comes from the Hemimastigotes, an unusual group of microorganisms. They are eukaryotic protists. When under a microscope, they appear unicellular- with two lines of flagella to help them move around and capture prey.
Hemimastigotes are complicated groups of cells. They are Eukaryotic; in other words, share a common ancestor with humans, plants, and animals.
For evolutionary biologists, findings like these are crucial to learning about how life has changed over the last one to two billion years on Earth. This finding benefits any researcher for which biology plays an important role, as they will now be able to identify this particular organism in their findings. Should this finding not exist, this divergence would have remained unidentified.
Being able to culture this organism will unlock its full genome, thus allowing researchers to obtain a richer understanding of its genes.
Having such a distinct form of life remaining hidden in plain sight is yet another reminder of how little humans know about Earth.
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