A group of scientists, led by Rachel Collin, have found a group of microscopic creatures that could be totally new to science. The small obstacle they face is to determine what type of animal they have discovered, since they are larvae that look completely different in their adult stage.
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The little-known animals in question are called foronídeos (Phoronida). Adults are anchored in sediments or in rocks or corals, building a tube of chitin to protect their soft bodies, while their heads are crowned with tentacles that are agitated in the stream to, through them, strain small particles of food.
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These animals do not live very deep, about 400 meters deep and can be found in most of the world’s oceans. Its adult size ranges between 2 and 20 centimeters in length. But being known in detail, as adults, does not mean that it is easy to link them to their larval stage. These little ones do not look much like their adult parents. They float on the seas, are microscopic and have small tentacles topped by a vaulted hood. Some have yellow spots, while others are transparent and you can see their internal fluids.
“The global diversity of small and rare marine animals, such as foronídeos, is very underestimated,” Collin explains in a statement. We do not know what animals are there, let alone know what their role could be in the oceans of the world.”
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To try to throw more light on the matter, Collin and his team collected a lot of phoronid larvae. The most reliable method to find out is by comparing your DNA with that of adult foronids. For this, they collected 23 larvae of phoronids from the Bay of Panama on the Pacific coast, and 29 from Bocas del Toro on the Caribbean coast. They sequenced their DNA and compared it with the information of adult foronídeos stored in the GenBank DNA database.
The results allowed us to distinguish three different foronídeos from the Bay of Panama and four from Bocas del Toro. These seven had a DNA unlike any other in GenBank, which contains the DNA of 75 percent of the recognized adult phoronid species.
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The DNA sequencing for a larva failed, which means that it could also be an unknown species, raising to eight the total of new potential species collected by the team.
“Due to the cryptic lifestyles of the foronídeos, the adults are very difficult to find – adds Michael Boyle, co-author of the study -, however, the presence of their larval forms in the plankton confirms that they are here, established and reproducing”.
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