Scientists are trying to find out just where this newly discovered microorganism found in mud from a Norwegian lake fits into the tree of life.
Time for a quick biology lesson. We know that in taxonomic classification we follow something called the phylogenetic tree (think: kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species). Where scientists are struggling with this organism's classification according to Popular Science is at nearly the highest level: kingdom.
So let's start with what we do know. It's eukaryotic, meaning it has cell membranes and nuclei. This also means under the current system, it would need to be classified in the kingdom Animalia, Plantae, Fungi or Protista. Popular Science states this organism, known more specifically as Collodictyon, most closely resembles an "algae-eating protozoan" but it doesn't fit exactly into that category. Here's why:
The organism is weird in several key ways. It has four flagella, for instance, which makes it different from bacteria and eukaryotes. Mammals, fungi and amoebae only have one flagellum — that’s the propeller-like feature that helps cells move (think of the “tail” of a sperm cell). Algae, plants and single-celled parasites called excavates are thought to have had two flagella. Collodictyon is somewhere between an excavate and an amoeba.
Also, the organism has the same internal structure as a parasite, but it uses amoeba-like protuberances to catch its food, which are blue-green algae. So again, it combines features from two branches of the eukaryotes, further evidence that it’s a primordial creature, the researchers say.
The research on this organism's genetic makeup is being led by KamranShalchian-Tabrizi with the Microbial Evolution Research Group (MERG) at the University of Oslo. It wasn't that long ago, 1990, that a brand new branch was added to the phylogenetic tree to include the new Domain and Kingdom Archaea, so Popular Science notes it is not out of the realm of possibilty as research on this organism continues for it to be found of a new branch.
"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. It can be used as a telescope into the primordial micro-cosmos," Shalchian-Tabrizi said in a statement on the research.
The researchers consider it among one of the oldest, most primitive types of eukaryotic organisms living. Considering it primordial, the team will continue to conduct gene sequencing on the organism to see how it could relate to other organisms.