New species of amoeba named after LOTR’s Gandalf

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A new species of amoeba has been discovered by researchers at University of Sao Paulo and has been named after Gandalf — a character from The Lord of the Rings franchise.

Researchers behind the discovery say they named the microorganism after the character because of its resemblance to the popular wizard’s hat. Researchers at the University of Sao Paulo and University of Maringa (UEM) in Brazil have identified a species of thecamoeba, named Arcella gandalfi, with a carapace that resembles the wizard’s hat worn by Gandalf, one of the most important characters in The Lord of the Rings, a series of novels by JRR Tolkien.

Thecamoebians are among the 30-45 lineages of amoebae known to exist worldwide. During their evolution, they have developed the ability to produce a varyingly shaped outer carapace or shell in which to protect themselves.

The researchers’ analysis was based on biometric and morphological characterisation. They concluded that the characteristic funnel shape of A gandalfi was unique among species belonging to the genus Arcella, one of the largest genera of testate amoebae.

The colour of A gandalfi ranges from light yellow to brown, and the diameter and height of its conical shell average 81 and 71 micrometres, respectively. A micrometre is one-tenth of a millimetre.

Although A gandalfi is microscopic, it is considered large for a single-celled organism.

Since it is easily identified based on its morphological features and because its geographic distribution appears to be confined to South America, the researchers suggest its use as a new flagship species.

A flagship species is a key species for a specific ecosystem or habitat, and it can serve as an icon or emblem of an environmental cause.

Most amoebae in the genus Arcella are less than half the size of A gandalfi and vary considerably in morphology, typically being hemispherical or disk-shaped.

Some resemble an Asian rice hat, while others are crown-like with denticulations — small ridges resembling bristles or spines around the edges.

The study was published in the journal Acta Protozoologica.

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