Spawn of the triffid?


Tiny organisms give us a glimpse into a complex evolutionary world.


Rhodelphis limneticus, in all its glory.

Denis Tikhonenkov

This is Rhodelphis limneticus, one of two newly discovered organisms that Canadian and Russian researchers say point to the existence of an ancient organism that resembled a tiny version of the lumbering, human-eating science fiction plants known as triffids.

The microscopic protists – the other being Rhodelphis marinus – are single-cell predators with a large, complex genome and a flagella, a whip-like structure that allows them to move and hunt.

They also have a chloroplast, though it is not photosynthetic anymore, pointing to their close ties with plants in the distant past.

"Rhodelphis shows that there was a period of time when the ancestors of plants and algae probably absorbed sunlight to generate energy, while also swimming around eating things," says biologist Patrick Keeling, from Canada’s University of British Columbia.

And this emphasises the need for robust sampling in order to reconstruct a more complete picture of life, adds colleague Denis Tikhonenkov.

"Most people don't look twice at organisms like this under a microscope, and getting them into culture may be hard work, but it's the only way to really see the true diversity of life," he says.

The full story is published in a paper in the journal Nature.

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triffid
  2. https://www.livescience.com/54242-protists.html
  3. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/neuroscience/flagellum
  4. http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41586-019-1398-6
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