Species go extinct every single day at a rate hardly thought imaginable. But new species are also discovered pretty often, although not anywhere near the rate of extinction. Still, it’s not that rare for a new species of butterfly, fish, jellyfish, or even shark to be found by scientists without even looking for them.
With all the species of which we know, we might expect to have mapped out a large portion of the planet’s fauna, but it turns out that we’re nowhere near finished. In fact, according to a recent study from the Indiana University Bloomington, our planet houses around one trillion species of microbes.
While we’ve done a very good job at identifying macroscopic organisms, it’s the microscopic ones that remain mostly unknown. This is because we’ve learned how to identify microbes in the past two or three decades. And as you might suspect, these tiny creatures are pretty much everywhere.
In fact, it is estimated that there are at least 10,000 different species of bacteria on one square centimeter of human arm skin at any given time. And that’s perfectly normal, as they’re part of our own tiny microbiome. A microbiome is a community of microbes living in a certain place during a certain time period.
And our personal microbiome is what helps do pretty much anything. It’s what keeps the germs away, it’s what helps digest the food we eat, and it’s what makes smell bad when we sweat. It’s what eats away the fragments of dead skin we constantly shed during the day, and it’s what gives our loved their particular smell and taste.
So with all of these species of microbes roaming around, scientists have determined that it’s best to have them all in a database. But first they needed to figure out exactly how many species of microbes there are on the planet. And the team of scientists behind the study used an equation to figure it out.
First, the team collected data from pretty much all species databases known to date and came up with a record for more than 5.6 million species, both macro and microscopic. Next came the hardest part, as the team had to scale their current data and come up with a prediction for how many species there are left to discover.
As it turns out, they managed to do the math far easier than they thought, and the relationships between the species are far simpler and powerful than anybody thought before. In fact, the scientists predicted that there are more than one trillion species in the world, most of them still to be discovered.
Expectedly, the task seems daunting. However, scientists aren’t known for their tendency to give up. So, of course, a large part of the scientific community is now determined to find as many new species (particularly of microbes) as they can, both to expand the current database, but also to have the honor of naming a new species.
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