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In the news: between Nov. 16 - 23, 2015

Monday, November 23, 2015

College of Liberal Arts & Sciences in the media between November 16 - 23, 2015

This Parasite Is Really a Micro-Jellyfish - Smithsonian Online

A new parasite discovery recently upset evolutionary biologists’ understanding of life itself. Or at least, how they classify life.

A group of parasites that scientists formerly thought were protists—a huge category of microorganisms—are actually members of Cnidaria, the phylum that includes jellyfish and coral.

Somewhere along the evolutionary line, the recently re-classified parasites, myxozoans, left behind all forms of mouths, guts or ability to survive outside of a host, according to a press release from the University of Kansas

During this evolutionary cleanse, they also pared down most of their genes. The average myxozoan genome is about 20 to 40 times smaller than that of an average jellyfish, Paulyn Cartwright explains in the release. Cartwright is an evolutionary biologist and an author of a new paper that reclassifies the creatures, recently published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"Because they’re so weird, it’s difficult to imagine they were jellyfish," she says in the release. But they did retain one key feature: Myxozoans still have a complex structure that looks like the stinging cells of jellyfish, called a nematocyst, that Cartwright calls "little firing weapons." 

The researchers aren’t sure what caused the parasites to change so drastically from their jellyfish-like ancestors, but they are interested in finding out more. "Myxozoa absolutely redefines what we think of as animal," says Cartwright in the press release. She also suspects that it might not be the only microscopic animal out there. "If it can happen once in evolution, it certainly can happen again."

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