Man, I was put out when they added Archaebacteria as a new Kingdom. Now this? And Pluto isn't a planet?If you think biologists have a pretty good idea about what lives on the Earth, think again. Scientists say they have just now discovered an entirely new branch on the tree of life. It's made up of mysterious microscopic organisms. They're related to fungus, but they are so different, you could argue that they deserve their very own kingdom, alongside plants and animals.
This comes as a big surprise. Just a few years ago, professor Timothy James and his colleagues sat down and wrote the definitive scientific paper to describe the fungal tree of life.
"We thought we knew what about the major groups that existed," says James, who is curator of fungus at the University of Michigan. "Many groups have excellent drawings of these fungi from the last 150 years."
Many fungi are already familiar. There are mushrooms, yeasts, molds like the one that makes penicillin, plant diseases such as rusts and smuts. Mildew in your shower is one, along with athlete's foot. There are even fungi that infect insects as well as fungi that live on other fungi.
Biologists figure they've probably only cataloged about 10 percent of all fungal species. But they thought they at least knew all of the major groups.
Oops. A paper being published in the journal Nature says that isn't so. Thomas Richards, at the Natural History Museum in London, says biologists can mostly only study microscopic fungi if they can grow them in the lab.