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Monday, 20 November, 2000, 12:24 GMT
New animal discovered
New organism Funch
The organism is just a tenth of a millimetre long
By BBC News Online science editor Dr David Whitehouse

Danish scientists claim to have discovered a new class of animal living on algae in the Greenland ice.

The microscopic organism is believed to be the newest member of a recently recognised group of animals with complex jaws.

The researchers from the University of Copenhagen and the University of Aarhus say that the animal has its own branch in the tree of life.

Called Limnognathia maerski, it was found among samples collected in 1996 from cold springs on Disko Island in northern Greenland.

Only females

The new animal, just a fraction of a millimetre long, shares features with some seawater organisms.

But researchers Peter Funch and Reinhardt Kristensen say that it exhibits many new structures not seen in other animals.

Springs Funch
The spring where the organism was found
On close study, it was realised that only females were found.

An intensive search for smaller males was conducted, but none were found.

The females are thought to reproduce asexually by a process known as parthenogenesis.

The researchers say that their study of this strange organism is just beginning. A colony of them is being kept in a refrigerator at the University of Copenhagen.

And they believe the discovery marks only the beginning in the hunt for other completely new groups of animals.

The organism is described in the Journal of Morphology.

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