Canadian scientists have identified microscopic creatures that are so unlike anything seen before, they had to create an entirely new branch on the evolutionary tree of life to slot them in.

A new paper published last week in Nature offers the first genetic analysis of hemimastigotes—a rare and poorly understood group of single-celled microorganisms.

But they’re eukaryotes, having complex cells and a clearly defined nucleus.

“This discovery literally redraws our branch of the ‘Tree of Life’ at one of its deepest points,” explained Alastair Simpson, the lead author of the study and biology professor at Dalhousie, in a statement.

“It opens a new door to understanding the evolution of complex cells—and their ancient origins—back well before animals and plants emerged on Earth.”

Using a new technique called single-cell transcriptonomics, and with the help of PhD candidate Gordon Lax, the Dalhousie team was able to tease large amounts of genetic material from the two species of hemimastigotes.

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