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New Zealand Science Teacher

Science Curriculum/Scientific Literacy

The long process of naming a nematode

A team of scientists and a lost specimen: the story of a newly named nematode.

Did you know that there could be up to one million species of nematodes, otherwise known as roundworms?  Of these, approximately 26,000 have been described.

We can now add one more to that number – a New Zealand nematode that has been waiting for more than 50 years for its name. Alaninema ngata was officially named and described in the latest Nematology journal in the paper “Description and systematic affinity of Alaninema ngata n. sp. (Alaninematidae: Panagrolaimorpha) parasitizing leaf-veined slugs (Athoracophoridae: Pulmonata) in New Zealand”.

So why has it taken such a long time to label this tiny creature?

Advances in technological and international expertise have finally enabled the formal description.

The nematode was first discovered by Dr Peter Johns of the University of Canterbury, and it lay in a national collection, with an accompanying manuscript and type specimen. Although the manuscript was complete, it was never submitted for publication. By the early 2000s, it was found that the original specimen had been lost.

In 2010, a new nematologist arrived in New Zealand, and fresh work began on the classifying the nematode. New specimens had to be found.

The work was an international collaboration: nematologist Gary Baker sent samples to taxonomists at the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow, and an AgResearch scientist here in New Zealand extracted DNA and obtained a DNA sequence for analysis. New type material has been deposited at Te Papa Museum in Wellington.

Nematodes can be found in a very wide range of environments, from mountains to oceanic trenches. They are thought to represent 90 per cent of all forms of life on the ocean floor.

You can read in more detail about the scientists involved in this work here. New Zealand Science Teacher published an in-depth look at nematodes here.

Image: Greeffiella, a common deep-sea nematode.


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