Imagine one day as you’re reading or eating a book, your house is suddenly ripped apart in an untimely predation event, because your house is a termite, and before you can scramble away with your flagella in search of a new termite-house, you’re paralyzed by a huge blob of tree goo. I know, I HATE when that happens. Then again, that’s how I feel when I wake up sometimes—horrified and immobile—but at least it’s not permanent. Unfortunately for one gang of flagellated friends approximately 10 million years ago, the nightmare was real, and the condition really permanent.
Luckily their sacrifice did not go unrecognized (Memorial Day reference!). Scientists from Oregon State University reported Friday the discovery of what is now the the oldest example of a cooperative symbiosis (a “mutualism” if you will) between an animal and a microbe. The story is extra cool because it’s based on ”there it is!” observable-with-your-eyes evidence: in a piece of amber (tree resin of the past/not the ’90s singer of the past), a termite’s gut was preserved just after it was ripped open, revealing the symbiotic protozoans inside. (Many new genera were described, but the press picked only the one with the picture, Microrhopalodites, to mention.) The discovery highlights how organisms have been engaging in cooperative symbioses and co-evolution for a really, really, long time (“really, really” is a technical term that means, um, about 10 million years). Relationship status: It’s complicated with Microrhopalodites. Read the rest of this entry »