A New Branch on the Tree of Life

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A Canadian graduate student has discovered a life form so different from everything else that it doesn’t fit into the plant, animal, or other known kingdoms.

While she was hiking outside Halifax, Canada, Yana Eglit scooped some dirt into sample vials she happened to be carrying because . . . well, that’s what graduate students do.

When she examined the samples later in the lab, Eglit realized she had hit pay dirt. She had collected some very rare single-celled organisms called hemimastigotes. These creatures were first described in the 1800s, but because they are so rare, microbiologists have had few opportunities to examine them.

Eglit notified another grad student, Gordon Lax, who specializes in genetic analysis of individual microbes. They learned that hemimastigotes differ as much from all other creatures as animals and fungi differ from each other. They are eukaryotes, which means that, like animals and fungi, they have complex cells with organelles and a nucleus, but that’s about as far as the similarities go. Below the domain level, they’re in a “supra-kingdom” of their own.

Eglit and Lax have figured out how to nurture hemimastigotes in the lab, so now their rarity should no longer make studying them difficult. Evolutionary biologists hope to put together more pieces of supposed evolutionary history with these new details. Creationist biologists, on the other hand, see them as examples of God’s boundless creativity that made so many different kinds of unrelated organisms. Just when we think we might have seen the limits of God’s design, we find something new.

Answers Magazine

March–April 2019

We’re probably all familiar with the iconic image of man’s supposed evolution from an apelike creature. Does it reflect reality, or is it just another evolution story?

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