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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

A New Branch for the Tree of Life?

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Friday, September 5, 2014/Categories: natural history, marine life, environment

The  Tree of Life  used to be a relatively straightforward construct to arrange the evolution of living things on Earth. It originally consisted of plants, animals, fungi, and bacteria. The discovery of a new marine creature in Australia may require another branch to be added.

Research published in the online journal,  Plos-One , describes the discovery of a marine organism that doesn't fit into any of the know branches on the tree of life. Looking surprisingly like a terrestrial mushroom which are fungi, the marine creatures may have survived since the  Ediacaran Period  (635 and 542 million years ago) in the deep oceans off what is now the Australian state of Tasmania. The strange organism was collected during a marine expedition in 1986, at significant depths off the Australian continental mass. But the mushroom-like creatures were only recently named and described by Danish investigators during this new research. Actual placement onto the tree will require DNA analysis but additional samples will need to be collected as the originals were preserved in lab chemicals that destroyed their genetic material.

Marine "Mushroom",  Dendrogramma   (credit: Plos-One )

The Tree of Life Project , a collaborative effort involving biological researchers and nature enthusiasts from around the world, may now need to add a new branch onto their impressive efforts to catalog everything living on Earth. It will be interesting to see where the new marine "mushrooms" go. The TOL is a huge endeavor with 10,000 pages of data already but one more bit will soon be added.


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