The biologist Ana Sofía Reboleira He was looking at Twitter when he reached the account of his American colleague Derek Hennen. In one of his tweets, the Virginia Tech researcher shared the image of a North American millipede in the trained eyes of Reboleira, who is also a professor at the National Museum of Natural History, University of Copenhagen (Denmark), he had something special in his head: some strange spots on his head that, really, were mushrooms.
“I could see something like fungus on the surface of the millipede. Until then, these mushrooms never found in American millipedes. So, I went to my colleague and showed him the picture. It was when we went down to the museum’s collections and began to investigate ”, explains Reboleira, who is the author of a study on this new species published in the magazine« MycoKeys ».
Along with his colleague Henrik EnghoffHe discovered several specimens of the same fungus in some of the American millipedes in the enormous collection of the University of Copenhagen Museum of Natural History, fungi that have never been documented before. This confirmed the existence of a previously unknown species of Laboulbeniales, an order of small, strange and largely unknown fungal parasites that attack insects and millipedes. The newly discovered parasitic fungus has been given its official Latin name, Troglomyces twitteri, for the way his discoverer found him.
Undervalued parasitic fungus
Laboulben fungi resemble small larvae. They belong to a class of their own because live outside of organisms hosts, and even specific parts of the bodies – in this case, in the reproductive organs millipede. The fungus absorbs the nutrition of its host animal by piercing the outer layer, using a special suction structure, while the other half of the fungus protrudes.
Approximately 30 different species of Laboulbenial-fungal parasites attack millipedes. The vast majority have been discovered as of 2014 and, according to Reboleira, most likely a large number remain to be discovered. Research in the Laboulbeniales area remains extremely scarce.
Not much is known about his own biology, either. Reboleira believes that these fungi can not only teach us about the insects in which they live, but also about the mechanisms behind parasitism itself, that is, the relationship between parasites and their hosts. Furthermore, it hopes that the research will also provide useful insights into parasites that attack and may be detrimental to the Human health.
The advantages of sharing on Twitter
On the other hand, the researcher points out that the discovery is an example of how sharing information on social networks can lead to completely unexpected results: «As far as we know, this is the first time that a new species has been discovered on Twitter. Stresses the importance of these platforms to share research and, therefore, be able achieve new results. I hope it will motivate professionals, researchers and amateurs to share more data through social media. This is something that has become more obvious during the coronavirus crisis, a time when many are prevented from visiting the field or laboratories, “he says.
Happy to see the first #Laboulbeniales paper in @MycoKeys. @SReboleira et al. describes #NewSpecies of Troglomyces from an American millipede — discovered here on @Twitter thanks to a photo posted by @derekhennen! https://t.co/ZVwKgdWxa9#SocialMedia#FungalDiversitypic.twitter.com/aWtjAciwBo
– Dr. Danny Haelewaters ????????????????????️???? (@dhaelewa) May 14, 2020
Reboleira emphasizes that the result was possible due to its access to one of the largest biological collections in the world. “Due to our vast collection of museums, it was relatively easy to confirm that we were really looking for a completely new species for science. This shows how valuable museum collections are. There is much more hidden in these collections than we know ».