Researchers from the University of Oslo, Norway have discovered a protozoan that may represent a new branch on the tree of life. The tiny creature was discovered in the sludge at the bottom of a lake Ås, 30KM south of Oslo.
Identifying A Mystery
Researchers from the University of Oslo made many attempts to compare the organism’s DNA to databases worldwide, but an exact match could not be found. Associate professor, Kamran Shalchian-Tabrizi, head of the Microbial Evolution Research Group (MERG) at the University of Oslo said, “We have found an unknown branch of the tree of life that lives in this lake. It is unique! So far we know of no other group of organisms that descend from closer to the roots of the tree of life than this species.”
The protozoan didn’t quite fit the mold for any known type of life such fungus, alga, parasite, plant or animal. Life on our planet can be divided into two types of species, prokaryotes and eukaryotes. Prokaryotes are the simplest living things. An example of these would be bacteria. Eukaryotes represent all other life such as plants, animals, and even man. This protozoan is a Eukaryote and represents one of the oldest known life forms to exist on the planet. It is estimated that this organism evolved around a billion years ago. It exhibits characteristics of several eukaryote groups. For instance, it has the same intracellular structure as excavates, but uses protuberances like amoebae to capture its food. This tells scientists that this organism may predate these groups and may show a glimpse into our primordial history.
Baiting the Hook
These little guys were not easy to find. They were hiding in the sludge at the bottom of the lake. Fortunately, they were hungry. Using a pipe to capture some of the sludge, Professor Dag Klaveness poured an algae mixture draw the little guys out. Once the protozoans began to feed on the mixture, he was able to use a pipette to capture them.
Interestingly this particular species is found nowhere else in the world. Why did such an ancient form of life survive in this area of the world? Very little is known about this protozoan. Researchers have determined that it likes to eat algae but have yet to discover if it has any predators of its own. They have also observed that it flourishes better as a loner.
For more information about this research, visit University of Oslo’s website at http://www.apollon.uio.no/english/articles/2012/microorganism.html.