Scientists Have Identified an Entirely New Form of Life in the Gut: Obelisks


New form of life - Obelisks

Thousands of new species of organisms are discovered every year. However, rarely has an entirely new class of organism been discovered. In what appears to be an exciting novel discovery, a team at Stanford University has characterized an entirely new form of microscopic life residing in the human gut, which they aptly called Obelisks, related to their apparent physical structure.1

New species discovered in 2023

Scientists discovered an assortment of new animal species this past year, including new varieties of spiders, squids, frogs, and chameleons. While these species may be new to the scientific community, they may already be well-known to the local Indigenous people, who have already given them a common name. These newly uncovered creatures give us just a glimpse into the immense biodiversity yet to be found across the planet. In all, over 150 new plant, animal, and fungi species were discovered. While most were new species of commonly known animals and plants, some discoveries stand out. One such discovery is the Kem Kem Abelisaur, a prehistoric dinosaur whose bones were newly discovered on the outskirts of phosphate mines in Morocco. This new dinosaur was likely a distant cousin of the T. Rex. Another key new organism discovered was found within the human body itself.

New microscopic form of life: Obelisks

The team, led by Dr. Ivan Zheludev from the Department of Biochemistry at Stanford, had initially performed a metatranscriptomic analysis of gut microbiota; that is, they analyzed published RNA sequences from human gut samples contained in 5.4 million datasets and, strangely enough, found sequences of around 1000 base pairs that didn’t resemble anything anyone had seen before. Their study found 30,000 different sequences for these Obelisks, which appear in 10% of all microbiomes analyzed. In their assessment, they surmise that the genomes of these RNA life forms are circular, with rod-like structures that encompass the genome. They even found that Obelisk RNA sequences encode a new type of protein of unknown function, which they termed Oblins.1

The dispersion of Obelisks also differed between the datasets they looked at. While Obelisks were found in only 7% of stool samples, up to 50% of oral samples were positive, with differing compositions in the type of Obelisks between both sites. In some cases, they apparently persisted in samples for over 300 days and could even be found inside a bacterial species, Streptococcus sanguinis.1

Though research into Obelisks is extremely early at this point, some have speculated that they might be a critical factor in revealing the origins of life due to their small size and ability to replicate.2 Because they’re located in the digestive system, they may also have a role in the pathogenesis of gastrointestinal and other disorders related to gut microbiota dysfunction. What’s certain is that within the next few years, there is likely more news to come regarding Obelisks, Oblins, and their role in human health.

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  1. Zheludev IN, et al. Viroid-like colonists of human microbiomes. bioRxiv. 2024.
  2. Sidik S.‘Wildly weird’ RNA bits discovered infesting the microbes in our guts. Nature; 2024.


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