"Missing" protists: A molecular prospective

  • Epstein S
  • López-García P
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Molecular ecology methods based on 18S rRNA amplification and sequencing have revealed an astounding diversity of microbial eukaryotes in every environment sampled so far. This is certainly true of new species and genera, as essentially every new survey discovers a wealth of novel diversity at this level. This is almost certain for taxa that are higher in taxonomic hierarchy, as many molecular surveys reported novel clades within established protistan phyla, with some of these clades repeatedly confirmed by subsequent studies. It may also be that the molecular approaches discovered several lineages of the highest taxonomic order, but this claim has not been vigorously verified as yet. Overall, the field of protistan diversity remains in its infancy. The true scale of this diversity is unknown, and so are the distribution of this diversity, its patterns, spatial and temporal dynamics, and ecological role. The sampled diversity appears to be just the tip of the iceberg, and this offers outstanding opportunities for microbial discovery for the purposes of both basic and applied research.

Author-supplied keywords

  • 18S rRNA
  • Cryptic species
  • Eukaryotic phylogeny
  • Molecular ecology
  • Species richness

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