The Tree of Life just got bigger. University of Queensland scientists found thousands of organisms that don’t fit into any known phylum. They acquired 7,280 bacterial genomes and 623 archaeal genomes, raising the number of known genomes by nearly 10 percent. Scientist Gene Tyson, who was part of the effort, said, “The real value of these genomes is that many are evolutionarily distinct from previously recovered genomes.”
There are some 80,000 genomes in genome repositories, according to the university. This new work, published online in September by Nature Microbiology, recovers almost 8,000 genomes – what the university called an explosion in the number of life forms we know about.
The scientists drew on the technique metagenomics, which is relatively new, according to Futurism. Researchers sequenced all the DNA in a sample – including water, feces, or dirt – to generate a metagenome. They were then able to reconstruct individual genomes of new bacteria and new archaea. Around a third of those microorganisms were distinct, allowing the researchers to create three archaeal phyla and 17 bacterial phyla.
Microbes can be hard to scrutinize; scientists can only culture under one percent, according to Tyson. Utilizing metagenomics may offer a new method of studying microorganisms researchers can’t grow in a laboratory – and such research could be vital as microbes are opposing our life-saving antibiotics, and we face antibiotic resistance. According to Futurism, it’s possible some of these new species could be used in better antibiotics.
And there could be more discoveries to come – study lead author Donovan Parks said in a statement, “We anticipate that processing of environmental samples deposited in other public repositories will add tens of thousands of additional microbial genomes to the tree of life.”