Tuesday, April 7, 2009

So that means I get to name it, right?

Today I discovered a new species. Or at least that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

In Zoology lab, we were again viewing slides from our collected microcosms underneath the microscope. During the past week, our water sample has become much more, well, fragrant. The jar was filled with filamentous brown algae which choked out other life forms (most of the amphipods, copepods, and planarians had died off, it appeared), and the water itself was a murky amber. Unidentified chunky objects floated ominously near the surface, and I wasn’t very excited to stick my hand into the nastiness. Still, it had to be done, so shutting my eyes and holding my nose, I collected a few drops of liquid with a pipette and dribbled it onto my slide. The findings were exciting. There were multiple vorticella, telescoping in and out rapidly by contracting their myonemes. Paramecia and euplotes abounded, and I even saw an elongate diatom, a round foraminiferan, a bring pink blespharism, and an elusive trumpet-shaped stentor (can you tell that I like dropping technical terms in an effort to impress laymen with my uber-cool invertebrate knowledge?). Then there were the strange, large, round ciliates with obvious internal contractile vacuoles. I called the lab assistant over to identify the specimens, and he was stumped. The professor, too, didn’t know what to make of it, besides “Cool!” and “I’ll have to look it up in my protozoa guide later!”

Score one for me.

But then, oh joy of joys, I found the crowning glory of the lab. At first, scanning the sample at 100X magnification, I thought it was an amoeba. I zoomed in to 400X for a closer look. It moved and twisted about several strands of algae, presumably feeding on organic matter. It appeared to be dorsoventrally flattened, and its body was roughly triangular and very supple, with a definite anterior end. An artist’s (*ahem*) rendering is shown above. There was a clear area in the middle, which I at first took to be a vacuole, but it soon became clear that this was a multicellular organism, so perhaps it was some kind of organ. There were cilia surrounding what must have been some form of mouth through which food entered. I found it interesting, and observed it for a while. Eventually, it exhausted the food supply at its particular locale, and began to move forward. And then it extended the proboscis.

A long tube, at least as long as the “body,” protruded from the “head” region, whipping around every which way, feeling about in a way that very much reminded me of an anteater’s tongue. It could fully extend this introverted “trunk” as well as withdraw it completely. We have studied proboscis worms in class before, but that looked nothing like this: they weren’t microscopic in size, and they were round, not flattened. My new friend continued to move about in this manner, waving its tongue-like protrusion wildly about, while I hollered like a maniac for the professor. She arrived and bent down to have a look-see. Her reaction, and I quote, “Oh. My. Gosh. Oh wow.” She had never seen anything like it, and was absolutely amazed. “Draw a picture of it!” she said. “I’ve GOT to look this up!”

Score two for me.

Of course, although possible, it’s rather unlikely that this animal belongs to a currently undescribed species. On the other hand, with so many countless unknown species out there, who knows how many thousands (millions?) of creatures we have not yet discovered? It boggles the mind.

So, as a scientist, it’s my duty to name my new organism, right? Which leads me to a bit of a conundrum. I haven’t a clue what, given the opportunity, I would name a species I discovered. To name it after oneself seems vain and cliché. A simple description (anteater/large nose/worm) seems repetitive and not particularly fun. So do I give credit to the university? Or the month in which it was discovered? Or pay homage to my professor. Hmmm…what would you name it?

Unfortunately, as I watched in awe, fascination, and a tinge of pride for being a famous discoverer, the organism got too hot above the harsh light of the microscope stage. It stopped its movement, retracted its proboscis and, as I stood by in horror, lysed. Its cell contents oozed out into the surrounding fluid, and its marvelously unique form was no longer recognizable.

RIP, only known specimen of Myrmecophagidrhinoturbelladruriaprilonelsoniamozartiae.


ihateyoupetersmythe said...

Ah, the joys of upper level biology. In my last bio lab we went to the zoo and documented incredibly obvious evolutionary adaptations. "A gharial has a sharp snout to catch fish." Did you know that? Did you?
So I have an entire Easter Break to myself and I should be calling you and shit. Be ready. By being ready you should have a cell phone, and it should be on for a change.

Lindsey said...

My favorite part of this post is the MS paint drawing you made of your new species. Hahahah!

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