You’re more likely to take a trip to the moon than see the eponymous microbe Legendrea loyezae under the microscope. NASA’s Apollo program sent a total of 24 men to the moon between 1968 and 1972. Only four people (including us) have ever found it Legendrea loyezae from the opening in 1908 to ours a recently published study.

Given the costs, it makes sense that the number of people who traveled to the moon would be small. But to peer into the microscopic realm, you don’t need a billion-dollar budget, you just need a microscope and a person willing to sit in front of it.

Our recent research has revealed 20 new species microbes, as well as 100 rare ones. Each DNA sample found yields a different one part of the evolution puzzle. Scientists can use this puzzle to analyze how the body works. For example, some genes hint at how a creature breathes. Can provide information about an organism’s place on the tree of life.

The reason so few scientists have seen these microbes is because sampling is a major problem. This means that most research groups only sample from a few or even one location.

Our most recent investigation, which took two years, involved the collection and testing of more than 1,000 samples. We searched for microbes from lakes and ponds in Warsaw, Poland, to marine sediments in the North Sea and the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Italy and Portugal, to chalk streams in Dorset, UK. And it bore fruit: we found more than 500 species, including rare and new ones.

Microbiology is the history of mankind

The first life on Earth appeared in the water as creatures too small for the human eye so it remained for billions of years. Microbes live around us. They can be found in all habitats, from ponds to oceans. But we still don’t know much about them. Some of these microscopic organisms evolved from simple to more complex creatures, eventually giving rise to all visible life around us. Others have has hardly changed and kept their minimum size.

Microorganisms were the first predators on Earth, and their voracious appetites drove the evolution of more complex life into early ages history of the Earth. After the evolution of complex life, microbes became the main food source for other creatures such as krill and plankton, which in turn are food for larger species. If the organisms at the bottom of the food chain disappear, all other parts it will also collapse on them.

The timeline for this is so long it’s hard to fathom. If we crammed 4.5 billion years of Earth’s history into one year, microscopic life would exist by the end of October. Humans will appear in the last 30 minutes of the year, and we will learn about the existence of microbes less than three seconds before the new year.

The tree of life reflects the relationship of organisms to each other.

The tree of life shows how organisms are related to each other. Looking at it, you can see that most life on Earth is still on a micro scale, with animals, plants and fungi confined to a small group of branches in the group Eukarya. Unlike the other two groups, archaea and bacteria, members of the eukaryotes store their DNA in the cell’s nucleus.

A microscopic rarity

Legendrea loyezae is in the Eukarya ciliate branch. Oxygen is deadly for Legendrea loyezae and it has tentacles that stretch and contract to catch prey. Scientists have opened thousands from species of ciliates.

Infusoria live in water environments, thin water films in the soil and even in places where there is no oxygen. Although they depend on water for life, they can form protective structures to remain dormant until they get wet again. They consist of only one cell, but they are amazingly diverse. Infusoria have interesting hunting strategies – some species specialize in eating threads of cyanobacteria, which they suck up like spaghetti. They can swim. Others lead a sedentary lifestyle, including A whirlwindwhich has a stem for attachment to submerged surfaces.

A whirlwindinfusoria having a foot for attachment to the surface.
James Weiss, The author is introduced

Some types of ciliates form permanent physical relationships with other groups of organisms, so-called symbioses. For example, they can a haven of green algae inside themselves to eat the sugar that algae produce through photosynthesis. In return, they protect the algae from larger algae grazers and viruses (yes, even algae can get viral infections).

Loxodes rostrum, a ciliate with endosymbiotic green algae.
James Weiss, The author is introduced

Some species of ciliates live in densely populated communities, especially in well-oxygenated environments. But others live in such small numbers that finding them is like looking for a thousand needles in a haystack the size of Mount Everest.

Our goal is to find as many of these rare and unusual species as possible. We use our knowledge of species ecology as a clue. If we know that a microbe prefers to live in dark habitats without oxygen, we do not look for it on the surface of water, where there is a lot of oxygen and light. It took thousands of hours of looking under a microscope to find four Legendrea loyezaenot to mention a small fortune in physical therapy for our cracked necks and sore backs.

Why microbes matter

It’s easy to feel detached from invisible germs. Most of us will never get to see it magnified enough to improve our vision. But the study of microbes has helped make some of the most important scientific discoveries in history. Germs take life as they are applied animal and plant diseases and develop massive marine blooms that destroy aquaculture farms.

But we could not live without them. There are microbes responsibility for survival our ecosystems and for their recovery from damage such as pollution or climate change. We cannot grow food without microorganisms. They clean our drains. Some can produce antibiotics and other medicines, others are involved in food production.

So studying the microbial world is worth the backache.