Field of Science

Will microbiologists ever have a Lesula moment?

Last week there was a report in PLoS One documenting the first scientific description (pictures, morphology, behaviour and even genetics) on a newly identified species of primate living in and around the Congo river basin. Its name is a Lesula. And it is magnificent looking.

Haunting picture of an adult Lesula's face. From Hart et al 2012 PLoS ONE
Im sure you've read about it and I'm sure you've seen those amazing pictures. This monkey, a close relative of green and vervet monkeys, had previously been known the local population but only in 2007 when a chance encounter between a field team and a captive member of species did the monkey start it's journey to becoming known to science. What followed was the scientific discovery that lead to this paper.

What is so amazing about the whole story is that it has gone this whole time without being documented. This is only the second new primate to be discovered in Africa in the last 28 years. A newly documented mammalian species is something of a rarity these days but this got me thinking: what does this have to tell us about the future of microbe discovery and our understanding of microbial diversity out there?

It's a long shot of a thought but it really did start me thinking.

Modern microbiology with its focus on metagenomics and deep sequencing alongside targeted microbe discovery projects like those looking into the kinds of viruses bats harbor is paralleling what happened with animal and plant taxonomy when western scientists first began exploring and documenting the living world around them. Only back then we didn't really know what bacteria or viruses were let alone did we have the technology to accurately study them. It's not surprising that we were only aware of a handful of microbes. But we are catching up now. Nearly every week a paper comes into my email inbox telling me of the discovery of another new virus or at least viral sequences that act as a clue that a virus-like thing was here.

I wonder how long it will take us to reach our Lesula moment? Will we ever see it? What will microbiology look like if we do? Will we ever say: "Oh, this amazing! Nobody has found a new virus or bacteria in the last 30 years!" ?

1 comment:

  1. Don't you think the microbiologists already have had a Lesula moment this decade? I'm talking of the Mimiviridae.


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