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Newly-Discovered Marine Fungi Add New Branch to the Tree of Life

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Posted November 19, 2015

A new study, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, details the discovery of several new species of marine fungi inhabiting previously-unknown branches on the tree of life.

A new study by Exeter University researchers has identified over 70 new species of marine fungi – one of the least-researched organisms on the planet – revealing them to inhabit a previously-unknown branch on the tree of life. Image credit: Tony Webster via flickr.com, CC BY 2.0.

A new study by Exeter University researchers has identified over 70 new species of marine fungi – one of the least-researched organisms on the planet – revealing them to inhabit a previously-unknown branch on the tree of life. Image credit: Tony Webster via flickr.com, CC BY 2.0.

The group behind the study, comprised of scientists from the University of Exeter, set out to investigate the diversity of these organisms in the world’s oceans by employing large-scale DNA sequencing techniques. As it turns out, the major share of evolutionary diversification in fungi populations occurred on land, rather than in the sea – a conclusion the team arrived at by observing that fungi are both less diverse and less abundant in these settings.

What makes this study even more significant is the fact that scientists still don’t know very much about fungal populations based in aquatic environments.

“Compared to their land-based counterparts, little is known about the diversity and function of fungi in the oceans. We identified more than seventy marine fungi and in doing so we discovered several previously undescribed groups that are so genetically different from others we know of that they must represent highly unique branches on the tree of life,” said Professor Thomas Richards from the university’s center of biosciences.

In total, one hundred and thirty samples were taken from locations near the shore across Bulgaria, Norway, Spain, Italy and France. Mapping their genetic code revealed how closely these new species are related to each other and to their cousins on land.

These results also help build our understanding of the evolution of these important microbes and shed light on how frequently fungi have transitioned from marine to terrestrial environments in the past.

The researchers hope that further sampling of fungi from different marine habitats, including those living on animals and algae, could reveal more as yet unknown species and further our knowledge of what roles do these organisms play in different marine environments.

Source: phys.org.

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