Thursday, 22 May 2003
Excerpt from original article
by Danny Kingsley
ABC Science Online
Four complete new kingdoms of life have been discovered by American researchers in the high alpine environment of Colorado, rewriting the textbooks on microbes.
The new microbe kingdoms were found in barren, boulder-filled tundra slopes west of Boulder, Colorado, delegates of the a meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in Washington DC heard this week.
Dr Allen Meyer, a medical practioner working with Professor Steven Schmidt in the environmental, population and organismic biology department of the University of Colorado in Boulder, made the discovery as part of the U.S. National Science Foundation’s ‘Microbial Observatories’ program.
“It is very interesting and kind of surprising to discover four kingdoms in the same locality,” Dr Don Colgan, an evolutionary biologist at the Australian Museum in Sydney, commented to ABC Science Online.
Until relatively recently, ‘kingdom’ was the highest level of classification in the scientific taxonomic system that places all forms of life into hierarchical categories. Kingdoms are made up of divisions (or phyla), which themselves break down again into classes, then orders, families, genus and finally, species.
Scientists in the 18th century originally classified the kingdoms of life into two basic groups: plants and animals. In 1977, Dr Carl Woese turned biology on its head when he discovered the ‘third kingdom of life': archaea micro-organisms that live near volcanic vents on the seafloor without oxygen and in conditions thought to be reminiscent of Earth’s earliest environment. He has since proposed that these three kingdoms be placed in a higher classification, called domains.
Two advances in science have helped uncover even more new kingdoms of life, Colgan said: the increase in the analytical power of computers and the discovery of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) process, which has allowed scientists to look at DNA sequences in intricate detail. A debt must also be paid to adventurers who go to extreme places and collect samples, he added.
Scientists now believe there are many more kingdoms, including fungi and a number of types of single-celled organisms. The number of kingdoms was estimated to be about 30 before the University of Colorado discovery. [more...]
Much MUCH more information is included in the Original Article at the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) website, News in Science.com.