A cleanroom microbe that could be a hazard during space travel, an appealing carnivorous mammal, a 12-meter-tall tree that has been hiding in plain sight, and a sea anemone that lives under an Antarctic glacier are among the species identified by the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry’s International Institute for Species Exploration as the top 10 species discovered last year.
There are some things we don’t want to send into space and the newly discovered cleanroom microbes are among them. Found in rooms where spacecraft are assembled, this microbial species could potentially contaminate other planets that the spacecraft visit. Tersicoccus phoenicis was independently collected from the floors of two separate cleanrooms around 2,500 miles apart, one in Florida and one in French Guiana. While frequent sterilization reduces the microbes found in cleanrooms, some resistant species persist that can tolerate extreme dryness; wide ranges of pH, temperature, and salt concentration; and exposure to UV light or hydrogen peroxide.
The species name, phoenicis, is from the Latin for phoenix as the species was isolated from the surface of the Mars Phoenix spacecraft assembly facility. The type locality was at the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Controlled Environments reported on the discovery of this microbe in November 2013: Rare New Microbe Found in Spacecraft Cleanrooms (http://www.cemag.us/news/2013/11/rare-new-microbe-found-spacecraft-cleanrooms)
An international committee of taxonomists and related experts selected the top 10 from among the approximately 18,000 new species named during the previous year and released the list May 22 to coincide with the May 23 birthday of Carolus Linnaeus, an 18th century Swedish botanist who is considered the father of modern taxonomy.
The cleanroom microbe is included in a quartet of tiny newcomers to science: a miniscule skeleton shrimp from Santa Catalina Island in California, a single-celled protist that does a credible imitation of a sponge, and a teensy fringed fairyfly named Tinkerbell.
Also on the list are a gecko that fades into the background in its native Australia and a fungus that, conversely, blazed its way into contention by virtue of the bright orange color it displays when it’s produced in colonies. Crawling slowly into the final spot on the alphabetical list is Zospeum tholussum, a tiny, translucent Croatian snail from one of earth’s deepest cave systems.
The annual list, established in 2008, calls attention to discoveries that are made even as species are going extinct faster than they are being identified.
“The majority of people are unaware of the dimensions of the biodiversity crisis,” says Dr. Quentin Wheeler, founding director of the IISE and ESF president.
Scientists believe 10 million species await discovery, five times the number that are already known to science.
“The top 10 is designed to bring attention to the unsung heroes addressing the biodiversity crisis by working to complete an inventory of earth’s plants, animals, and microbes. Each year a small, dedicated community of taxonomists and curators substantively improve our understanding of the diversity of life and the wondrous ways in which species have adapted for survival,” Wheeler says.
“One of the most inspiring facts about the top 10 species of 2014 is that not all of the ‘big’ species are already known or documented,” says Dr. Antonio Valdecasas, chair of the selection committee and a biologist and research zoologist with Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales in Madrid, Spain. “One species of mammal and one tree species confirm that the species waiting to be discovered are not only on the microscopic scale.”
Release Date: May 21, 2014
Source: SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry
See related story: Rare New Microbe Found in Spacecraft Cleanrooms