Discovering Obelisks: A New Form of Life

  Feb 28, 2024

Discovering Obelisks: A New Form of Life

Scientists have recently identified a new form of life, dubbed ‘obelisks,’ expanding our understanding of the boundary between the living and non-living. This discovery adds to the known categories of viruses and viroids, offering a fresh perspective on the simplicity and diversity of life forms.

Key Discoveries and Insights

New Life Form: Obelisks represent a third category of simple life forms, alongside viruses and viroids. They were identified through an extensive analysis of RNA sequences from bacteria in the human gut.

Research Methodology: Utilizing next-generation sequencing (NGS), researchers analyzed 5.4 million RNA sequence datasets, identifying 29,959 distinct obelisks in 220,000 of these datasets. This method is akin to piecing together a scattered puzzle without a guiding picture, relying on data to reconstruct the whole.

Presence Across the Globe: Obelisks were found not only in the human gut but also in oral bacteria, and their presence was confirmed in samples from all seven continents, highlighting their widespread distribution.

Characteristics: Unlike viroids, obelisks have a much longer RNA sequence, about a thousand base pairs, and appear to code for two proteins, distinct from any known proteins in other life forms. Their genome is circular, similar to viroids, but with significant differences in function and structure.

Association with Bacteria: While it was challenging to pinpoint which specific bacteria hosted obelisks due to the pooled nature of the RNA data, researchers successfully linked an obelisk to Streptococcus sanguini, a bacterium commonly found in the human mouth, through individual analyses.

Implications and Future Research

The discovery of obelisks opens up numerous questions regarding their replication, transmission, pathogenic potential, evolutionary history, and role in human health and disease. As research progresses, answers to these questions may redefine our understanding of life’s diversity and complexity, particularly at the microscopic level where the lines between living and non-living blur.

This breakthrough underscores the power of modern genetic sequencing technologies and computational biology in uncovering the mysteries of life, offering a glimpse into the previously uncharted territory of life’s simplest forms.

As we continue to explore these microscopic frontiers, the discovery of obelisks not only challenges our current classifications of life but also broadens the horizon for understanding the intricate relationships between different life forms and their environments.


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