Best of 2016 // #98: The New Tree of Life

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New Tree of Life bacteria

A small, shallow aquifer under the Colorado River’s floodplain doesn’t seem like a place to hunt for new forms of life.  It turns out, however, that the area near Rifle, Colorado is teaming with forms of Bacteria never seen by science before.

/READ MORE // Concrete Comes to Life

Nobody expected to find new life in Colorado, until University of California, Berkeley geomicrobiologist Jillian Banfield plaid a visit to the site.  The samples of water she took led her and her colleagues to create a new ‘Tree of Life’ – and pushed other researchers to look for life in other inhospitable sites such as Yellowstone’s Hot Springs and The Sahara desert.

Mapping the genetic makeup of the bacteria collected led to showing relationship between them.  As the tree was being built, it became clear that scientists have long been blind to nearly a third of all life on the planet – most of it Bacterial.  It also turned out that much of the bacteria collected could not be cultivated in a lab, leaving Banfield and her colleagues sequencing each ‘communities’ genetic makeup separately, and then putting together the individual species.

New Tree of Life Bacteria

The findings and the new Tree were published in Nature, Microbiology in April and provide  a new view of life on our planet, making the dominant form of life on the planet feel just a little more insignificant.

There’s 99 more stories from 2016.  Check out the Best of 2016 series here

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