December 5th, 2014
Biologists all over the world have been eagerly awaiting the results of the genetic analysis of one of the world’s smallest known species, hereafter called the “protozoan”, from a little lake 30 kilometers south of Oslo, Norway. After 20 years of research, it appears that the very rare microscopic-organism is humankind’s most remot relative.
Researchers from the University of Oslo compared the genes of the protozoan with all other known species in the world, and discovered that the protozoan did not fit on any of the main branches of the tree of life. The protozoan is not a fungus, algae, parasite, plant or animal.
”It is unique!,” concluded researcher Kamran Shalchian-Tabrizi. “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 lives off algae, but the researchers still do not know what eats the protozoan. Nor do they know anything about its life cycle. But one thing is certain: “They are not sociable creatures. They flourish best alone. Once they have eaten the food, cannibalism is the order of the day,” notes researcher Dag Klaveness.
The protozoan was discovered as early as 1865, in the sludge of a lake in the Norwegian village Ås. At that time, scientists had no idea of how important it was to the history of life on Earth. But now, thanks to very advanced genetic analysis, the species can provide insight into what the first life on our planet looked like hundreds of millions of years ago.
Source: Science Daily
Photo: kev_walsh / Flickr