Long, Long, Long Lost Brothers

Dendrogramma_enigmatica_sp._nov.,_holotypeThirty years ago, Danish scientists collected small, floating marine creatures off an Australian coast. Among those specimens, they have now announced, are “two new species of what they call Dendrogramma in a study published in the journal PLOS ONE.” These new species are so strange they may have last shared a common ancestor with humans 600 million years ago. They may represent a new phylum.

Long before modern science, philosophers separated life into the Kingdoms of Animal and Plant. In Today’s taxonomy, Kingdoms are divided into Phyla; for example, Chordata, the phylum that unites you and me with sea squirts. A phylum is a very basic classification. A new phylum is an extraordinary claim and requires extraordinary scrutiny.

The Dendrogrammas are weird little guys, but aren’t likely to star in their own SyFy monster movie. They look like odd jellyfish. The Kingdoms of Animals and Plants got all the big, flashy species, at least from a human point of view. Once microscopes allowed a more detailed examination, three or four groups of microbes (the science is still developing) were so different they were classified in their own Kingdoms, and they won’t get their own monster movie, either. But we still live on the Planet of Bacteria. We, who have dominion over the beasts of the field, should contemplate our small brethren who out-number us, out-weigh us, and may out-survive us.

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