Over the last 15 years, scientists have discovered 1,011 new species. While this accomplishment is fantastic in the context of biological research, it has created a bit of an organizational challenge, particularly where to put all of them in the tree of life.
Scientists recently went to work revising and revamping the evolutionary tree. Their final result was published in the journal Nature Microbiology. In addition to adding the 1,011 new species to the chart, they also studied the DNA of 2,072 known species in order to make sure everything was properly connected.
The results are incredible. The whole thing is arranged in a massive, fan-like circle with bacteria making up about 80% of it.
Another new feature of the tree is a single, large branch that splits off near the base. The bacteria in this group tend to be small in size and have a simple metabolism.
Dr. Jillian F. Banfield of the University of California, Berkeley speculated that they got their start as simple life-forms in the first chapters in the history of life. They have stuck with that winning formula ever since.
“This is maybe an early evolving group,” Dr. Banfield said. “Their advantage is just being around for a really long time.”
Brian P. Hedlund, a microbiologist at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas who was not involved in the new study, said that one of the most striking results of the study was that the tree of life was dominated by species that scientists have never been able to see or grow in their labs. “Most of life is hiding under our noses,” he said.
By building a more detailed map of the way organisms, past and present, are connected, scientists hope to gain a greater understanding of evolutionary biology, which has applications not only for evolutionary biologists, but also for biochemists looking for genes the prevent disease.
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