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Earth Science

Organism Closest To Original "Tree of Life" Discovered 198

Posted by samzenpus
from the in-the-beginning dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Scientists have discovered a benign algae eating protozoan in a lake near Oslo, Norway whose gene sequence does not match any known organism living on earth today, and this beasty combines genetic characteristics across plant, animal, and fungal kingdoms. It is believed to be the closest living organism to the original organisms that spawned all animal life on earth."
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Organism Closest To Original "Tree of Life" Discovered

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  • Oblig. (Score:5, Funny)

    by frank_carmody (1551463) <<moc.liamg> <ta> <tnegordep>> on Monday April 30, 2012 @05:12AM (#39842959)

    So what's the /. UID of this thing?

    • Re:Oblig. (Score:5, Funny)

      by djl4570 (801529) on Monday April 30, 2012 @05:15AM (#39842977) Journal
      -1^.5
    • Re:Oblig. (Score:5, Funny)

      by Chrisq (894406) on Monday April 30, 2012 @05:34AM (#39843077)

      So what's the /. UID of this thing?

      Judging by the picture in the article [msn.com], it is none other than Cowboy Neil himself.

    • by AHuxley (892839)
      0, 1 or some Erds number or a low batch number?
    • by Rogerborg (306625)

      So what's the /. UID of this thing?

      T3K3L1-L1 [wikipedia.org]

    • Swampthing! [wikipedia.org]

    • Re:Oblig. (Score:4, Funny)

      by DanielRavenNest (107550) on Monday April 30, 2012 @10:16AM (#39844771)

      The protozoan was heard shouting "Hey you young species, get off my pond!"

  • by Samantha Wright (1324923) on Monday April 30, 2012 @05:21AM (#39843019) Homepage Journal

    Here [oxfordjournals.org]'s the paper.

    And to ruin all of the surprise: it's believed to be about a billion years removed from other known protists. That's about the same age as multicellular life. Archaea are more distant from us than these protists.

    This is more baseless conjecture than anything, but its blend of unusual genes most likely suggests that it is the sole (optimized) survivor of a larger ecosystem of similar strains, which may have exchanged DNA through some horizontal gene transfer mechanism in the past. The relatedness to a distant organism in Tibet implies that at least one of these species was once geographically ubiquitous, or spread through some other means, and may have blended into its surroundings there.

    The measurement of the organism's "age" is based on the sequence of an extremely conserved gene that codes for a part of a very important cell component, the ribosome. That measurement reflects how many times the sequence has been altered since it last matched a suspected common ancestor with its nearest relatives. The researchers never said that it's been essentially the same organism for a billion years (although it looks that way in the summary and MSNBC article); since they only analysed live samples, not fossilized ones, there's no way of knowing (and I'd be sceptical about any claims that said we could sequence billion-year-old DNA.) At any rate, analytical genomics shows us that for the sequence to stay the same for so long, the environment would have to be completely static and the genes very specifically optimised, which was almost certainly not the case due to historical climate trends. The rate of sequence change is very reliable on a large scale.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by RandomAdam (1837998)
      Oh come on if you are going to use logic, reason and knowledge...oh and R'ingTFA /. is no place for you.

      Nice summary though.
    • by Carewolf (581105)

      But isn't the protist kingdom generally considered the catch-all group for shit we don't yet know where belong? In that sense it isn't really surprising to for protists to become better classified.

      • In modern classification, there is no Protist kingdom. Protists are polyphyletic, which means they have representatives in many different groups (or Kingdoms, if you want), and each group is linked by a common ancestor. Though they are still working out the actual branches of the Eukarya tree (a lot of the early branching is difficult to resolve because of so much genome re-arranging and duplications, insertions, and deletions), one fairly recent paper suggests at least 6 "Kingdoms": Opisthokonta (which includes fungi, animalia, and some of what were previously thought of as protists), Amoebazoa (amoebas, slime moulds, etc), Archaeplastida (plantae, red algae, and green algae), Chromalveolata, Rhizaria, Excavata, and some groups that aren't clearly in those groups. This paper by Roger and Simpson from 2004 has a good summary:

        Simpson, A.G.B. & Roger, A.J., 2004. The real "oekingdoms" of eukaryotes. Current biology, 14(17), p.693-696. Available at: http://kfrserver.natur.cuni.cz/studium/prednasky/bunka/2005/simpson_eukevol.pdf. (PDF link) [natur.cuni.cz]

        I'm sure there has been more work since then, but that paper is accessible to non-experts and a good overall read (though I recommend having wikipedia open to see what organisms they are talking about when they list names).

        Modern classification is a bit of a mess, because Nature doesn't fit into the neat hierarchical classification system that we grew up with. A good example of this is the idea of the Animal, Fungi, and Plant kingdoms of old. If Animals and Fungi deserve their own kingdoms, then at the same hierarchical level, each plant "phylum" should actually be a kingdom. Or something along those lines. But anyway more modern classification uses monophyletic groups (groups in which all members have a common ancestor; e.g. Eukarya is monophyletic because all eukaryotes share a common ancestor, but Protista is polyphyletic because there are protists which have a more recent common ancestor with animals than they do with other protists).

        ----------

        About the article, man that thing is a mess. Is it a translation problem, are the journalists who wrote it completely clueless, or are the researchers who discovered this organism extremely out of date with their classification? It reads more like a discovery from 1970 than 2012. :-/

        • by Kjella (173770) on Monday April 30, 2012 @07:42AM (#39843429) Homepage

          Modern classification is a bit of a mess, because Nature doesn't fit into the neat hierarchical classification system that we grew up with.

          Yeah, multiple inheritance is a mess. They should have gone with single inheritance and interfaces instead...

        • by PopeRatzo (965947)

          there is no Protist kingdom.

          But by my ancestors I swear, there will be one someday...

          But first, we must take the North.

          • by KhabaLox (1906148)

            there is no Protist kingdom.

            But by my ancestors I swear, there will be one someday...

            You're gonna need more Pylons.

        • Thanks for that article link. It packs a significant amount of clearly written information into four pages. Clearly, Simpson has no future in biological pedagogy.

          >About the article, man that thing is a mess. Is it a translation problem, are the journalists who wrote it completely clueless, or are the researchers who discovered this organism extremely out of date with their classification?

          In my opinion, the answer to your question is, "Yes."

        • by arth1 (260657)

          About the article, man that thing is a mess. Is it a translation problem, are the journalists who wrote it completely clueless, or are the researchers who discovered this organism extremely out of date with their classification? It reads more like a discovery from 1970 than 2012. :-/

          A little bit of all of them, and the inevitable Chinese whispers you get with Murdochian journalism, where no "journalist" go check the source but only rewrite each other, and a little bit of sensationalism by the original journalist, Ynge Vogt.

          The original article can be found in English at the University of Oslo:
          http://www.apollon.uio.no/english/articles/2012/microorganism.html [apollon.uio.no]

          What's enlightening by reading this article is that the scientists don't claim that this type of protozoan, collodictyons, is a ne

      • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 30, 2012 @06:29AM (#39843225)

        Pretty much. They're a garbage bag of mostly/variably single-celled eukaryotic creatures that don't fit into the traditionally multicellular kingdoms, such as animals, plants, and fungi. It's sort of what you'd be left over with if you took a big, branching tree (all of the eukaryotes) and lopped off large swaths of its branches. Eukaryotes themselves are a chimera-like mix of several bits and pieces (e.g., chloroplasts and mitochondria, which are thought to have been originally independent prokaryotic creatures: look up endosymbiosis [wikipedia.org]). In the real world, classification is messy because life has had a rather complicated history.

        Imagine the worst conceivable spaghetti code, built to merely a "good enough to still be self-copyable" code standard, and duplicated (with copy errors), forked (speciated) and merged (endosymbiosis, crossover, and sex) zillions of times with no centralized repository for a few billion years. Then humans come along and try to figure out the code history after the fact, and after 99% of the code has been thrown away (extinct). It isn't going to be pretty. We have a broad outline of the plot to the story, and that's it so far.

    • by ByOhTek (1181381)

      Nice cover of it. Much better than TFS/TFA.

      The only thing I'd want to add - while TFS/TFT said origin of the "tree of life" - I believe it would be closest to the eukaryotic branch of the tree. That lines up pretty well with the 1 billion years estimate as well.

      • Eh... Neither of them should have said that, actually. It's an outgroup, nothing more. It's no closer than we are. It lets us interpolate a bit better, but without more knowledge of the species it interacted with historically it's not very useful. This is just another case of mainstream journalism not understanding something scientific and trying to make something useful out of it. There are species of yeast that are just as divergent from each other!
    • by RivenAleem (1590553) on Monday April 30, 2012 @06:01AM (#39843163)

      Cthulhu's gunna be pretty mad when he wakes up to find people have tramped through his shrubbery.

  • Organism Closest To Original "Tree of Life" Discovered

    Eating of its fruit doesn't confer immortality per se, but many congenital defects abate, the skin regains elastin and the libido is enhanced significantly.

  • really? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by symes (835608) on Monday April 30, 2012 @06:16AM (#39843195) Journal

    I can't say I know a great deal about this area but it strikes me that "gene sequence does not match any known organism living on earth today" is not appropriate, seeing as we know so very little about what is crawling around the deepest parts of our oceans. It could well be this Norwegian fellow is quite ordinary.

    • Re:really? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by MartinSchou (1360093) on Monday April 30, 2012 @06:25AM (#39843215)

      So, your problem is with the fact that it doesn't match any known organism, because we don't know what else might be out there?

  • Wrong headline! (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 30, 2012 @06:26AM (#39843219)

    It might be a basal eukaryote, but that does not make it basal life, i.e. bacteria and archaea were present on Earth for ~2 billion years before eukaryotes came about..

  • Does this mean we are going to be overun with Pak Protectors.

  • by wbr1 (2538558) on Monday April 30, 2012 @07:48AM (#39843447)
    From TFA

    They compared its genome with those in hundreds of databases around the world, with little luck. In all that looking they "have only found a partial match with a gene sequence in Tibet.

    Is it part of the Rinpoche system? The next Dali Lama perhaps?

  • ...and I keep reading it wrong?! Orga*NI*sm damnit... Orga*NI*sm! Read either way there is some truth to the "tree of life" thing but still.

  • No! Bad Summary! (Score:4, Informative)

    by denmarkw00t (892627) on Monday April 30, 2012 @09:29AM (#39844229) Homepage Journal

    From The Herp Derp Summary:

    this beasty combines genetic characteristics across plant, animal, and fungal kingdoms

    This is never actually mentioned in the article, in fact...

    From TFA (emphasis mine):

    They found it doesn't genetically fit into any of the previously discovered kingdoms of life. It's an organism with membrane-bound internal structures, called a eukaryote, but genetically it isn't an animal, plant, fungi, algae or protist (the five main groups of eukaryotes).

    To me, at least, that doesn't say that it necessarily has characteristics from all of those kingdoms, and certainly doesn't imply that it "combines" them.

  • by Muad'Dave (255648) on Monday April 30, 2012 @10:28AM (#39844917) Homepage

    ...benign algae eating protozoan...

    So was it:
    1) a protozoan that eats benign algae (a benign-algae-eating protozoan ...)
    2) a benign protozoan that eats algae (a benign, algae-eating protozoan ...)
    3) a benign algae that was observed eating a protozoan (a benign algae, eating protozoan, ... [newspaper headline style])

    • by MiniMike (234881)

      ...benign algae eating protozoan...

      So was it:
      1) a protozoan that eats benign algae (a benign-algae-eating protozoan ...)
      2) a benign protozoan that eats algae (a benign, algae-eating protozoan ...)
      3) a benign algae that was observed eating a protozoan (a benign algae, eating protozoan, ... [newspaper headline style])

      Add a 'Cowboy Neal' option (make your own protozoan joke) and we may just have the next Slashdot Poll...

  • Horizontal evolution means some genetic material did not come from your parent(s), but from other organisms during ingestion, symbiosis, sex, infection, etc. Unless their is an institutional mechanism for this like modern sex, successful horizontal transfers probably failed the vast majority of the time. But maybe the one in quadrillion attempt succeeded and conferred a retained advantage.
  • by peter303 (12292) on Monday April 30, 2012 @11:31AM (#39845659)
    Evolution is not directional, that is aiming toward a particular goal, say humans. It goes in both directions, both complexifying and simplifying in order to occupy all the ecological niches it can. Parasites and viruses may be examples of simplification of more complete organisms at one time. The organism in this article may be a simplification of a eukaryote too. Then maybe not.
  • I, for one, welcome our old protozoan overlords.
  • As we analyze more genomes, I wonder how much more our currently accepted taxonomy of organisms will change?

Vax Vobiscum

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