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U. of Colorado scientists discover four new kingdoms of life

University of Colorado at Boulder researchers have discovered four new kingdoms of life in the high alpine environment of Colorado, findings that have potential applications in the fields of agriculture and global change.

Doctoral student Allen Meyer and Professor Steven Schmidt of the environmental, population and organismic biology department discovered the new microbe kingdoms in barren, boulder-filled tundra slopes west of Boulder.

At altitudes of 11,000 feet to 13,000 feet in elevation just east of the Continental Divide, the region is subject to nine months of snow and three months of intense sun and wind, said Meyer.

Although scientists in the 18th century originally classified the kingdoms of life into two groups -- plants and animals -- many scientists now believe there are many more, including fungi and a number of types of single-celled organisms. Because of new scientific tools resulting in sophisticated DNA analysis, the number of kingdoms was estimated to be about 30 before the CU-Boulder findings, said Meyer.

Funded by the National Science Foundation's program, "Microbial Observatories," the findings will be presented at the 103rd General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in Washington, D.C. by Allen on May 19.

Meyer and Schmidt used a novel molecular technique that extracts DNA from the soil to identify the organisms living there. "The discovery of new kingdoms means more undiscovered species exist," said Meyer. The researchers concentrated their research on eukaryotic microbes -- microscopic organisms that have a membrane around their DNA. The number of microbe species has been growing as scientists use new DNA techniques to uncover the family of eukaryotes, they said.

Unearthing new organisms might even help in solving practical problems in agriculture and ecology, Meyer said. "Newly discovered microbial eukaryotes could be of benefit in understanding soil diversity that may
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Contact: Alen Meyer
len.Meyer@colorado.edu
303-492-8239
University of Colorado at Boulder
19-May-2003


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