Earth May Host One Trillion Microbe Species – But Only 0,001 Percent Are Discovered

Posted: May 3 2016, 10:06am CDT | by , Updated: May 3 2016, 10:24pm CDT, in News | Latest Science News


Earth May Host One Trillion Microbe Species – But Only 0,001 Percent are Discovered
One of the species of bacteria Actinomyces israelii. Credit: GrahamColm

New research suggests that only one-thousandth of 1 percent of species have been identified while many others still remain to be discovered and described.

New research says that Earth hosts nearly 1 trillion species, but surprisingly most of them are not identified yet. Precisely, we are aware of just 0.001 percent of them.

The estimate was made when researchers looked at a comprehensive dataset of microbes, plants and animals and it was obtained from all possible sources such as government, institutions or citizen science. With this largest dataset of its kind, researchers were able to estimate how many species are discovered on Earth and how many are yet to be unveiled. 

Overall, more than 5.6 million microscopic and non-microscopic species have been tracked from 35,000 locations across world oceans and continents expect Antarctica. Still so much more left to see.

“Estimating the number of species on Earth is among the great challenges in biology. Our study combines the largest available datasets with ecological models and new ecological rules for how biodiversity relates to abundance. This gave us a new and rigorous estimate for the number of microbial species on Earth,” said Jay Lennon, one of the researchers from Indiana University.

“Until recently, we have lacked the tools to truly estimate the number of microbial species in the natural environment. The advent of new genetic sequencing technology provides us unprecedentedly larger pool of new information.”

The comprehensive study also indicates how much diverse our land masses and oceans are and how little we know about them. 

One of the biggest challenges to compile the catalogue was the count of microbial species which may include bacteria, archaea and microbial fungi. Unlike plants and animals, these species are too small to be seen with naked eye. It is much easier to accurately predict the number of plant and animal species as you can physically see them in an area of a landscape. 

Many previous estimates about microbes lacked authenticity since they involved questionable techniques to detect microbial life.

“Older estimates were based on efforts that dramatically under-sampled the diversity of microorganisms,” said Lennon. “Before high-throughput sequencing, scientists would characterize diversity based on 100 individuals, when we know that a gram of soil contains up to a billion organisms and the total number on Earth is over 20 orders of magnitude greater.”

Researchers gathered 20,376 sampling efforts on bacteria, archaea and microscopic fungi and 14,862 sampling efforts on trees, birds and mammals communities and used universal scaling laws to answer the big questions. These laws relate how organisms change with size over many orders of magnetudes.

“We suspected that aspects of biodiversity, like the number of species on Earth, would scale with the abundance of individual organisms,” said Lennon. “After analyzing a massive amount of data, we observed simple but powerful trends in how biodiversity changes across scales of abundance .One of these trends is among the most expensive patterns in biology, holding across all magnitudes of abundance in nature."


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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.




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