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HEALTH

Norway lake yields ‘man’s remotest relative’

After two decades of examining a microscopic algae-eater that lives in a lake in Norway, scientists on Thursday declared it to be one of the world's oldest living organisms and man's remotest relative.

Norway lake yields 'man's remotest relative'
Photo: Yngve Vogt/UiO

The elusive, single-cell creature evolved about a billion years ago and did not fit in any of the known categories of living organisms — it was not an animal, plant, parasite, fungus or alga, they said.

"We have found an unknown branch of the tree of life that lives in this lake. It is unique!" University of Oslo researcher Kamran Shalchian-Tabrizi said.

"So far we know of no other group of organisms that descends from closer to the roots of the tree of life than this species", which has been declared a new category of organism called Collodictyon.

Scientists believe the discovery may provide insight into what life looked like on earth hundreds of millions of years ago.

Collodictyon lives in the sludge of a small lake called Ås, 30 kilometres south of Oslo.

It has four flagella — tail-like propellers it uses to move around, and can only be seen with a microscope. It is 30 to 50 micrometers (millionths of a metre) long.

Like plants, fungi, algae and animals, including humans, Collodictyon are members of the eukaryote family that possess cell nuclei enclosed by membranes, unlike bacteria.

Using the characteristics of Collodictyon, scientists can now infer what prehistoric eukaryotes looked like, said Tabrizi — probably a single-cell organism with fingerlike structures that it used to catch microscopic prey.

"They are not sociable creatures," added co-researcher Dag Klaveness, who bred millions of the tiny organisms for the study.

"They flourish best alone. Once they have eaten the food, cannibalism is the order of the day."

They have not been found anywhere but in Lake Ås.

"It is quite fascinating that we can still find these kinds of organisms after so many years," Tabrizi told AFP.

"It has been outside our living rooms for millions of years and we haven't seen it."

Collodictyon was first found in the lake about 20 years ago by University of Oslo scientists who recognised it was unusual but "didn't know how important it was", he added.

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HEALTH

Why are more people waiting to be given a GP in Norway?

As many as 116,000 people are waiting to be given a "fastlege", or GP, in Norway. So, why are residents having to wait to be assigned a doctor?

More than 116,000 people are waiting to be given a GP in Norway. Pictured is a picture of a stethoscope and some paperwork.
More than 116,000 people are waiting to be given a GP in Norway. Pictured is a picture of a stethoscope and some paperwork. Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.

A recent quarterly report from the Norwegian Directorate of Health has revealed that 116,000 people in Norway are on the waiting list to be given a GP

Furthermore, the number of those without a doctor has grown in recent years, with those in rural and northern parts of the country more likely to be left waiting for a GP. 

The current GP scheme in Norway allows everyone to choose their own doctor, who acts as the patients’ main point of contact with the health service. Your GP is also responsible for your primary medical needs, and you are allowed to change your doctor twice a year. 

READ ALSO: How Norway’s health insurance scheme works and the common problems foreigners face

Doctors in Norway have warned that a lack of funding and staff is threatening the GP system. 

“The GP scheme is on the verge of collapsing because there are too few doctors,” Bernand Holthe, a GP on the board of the Nordland Medical Association and a member of GP’s association for the area, told public broadcaster NRK

He says that reform in 2012 to the GP system has left doctors with too much work with not enough resources at their disposal. 

“After the collaboration reform in 2012, the GP scheme has been given too many tasks without receiving a corresponding amount of resources,” Holthe said. 

The government has pledged around 450 million in funding for GPs in its state budget for 2022, which Holthe argues isn’t enough to recruit the number of GPs necessary. 

Nils Kristian Klev and Marte Kvittum Tangen who represent the country’s 5,000 or so GPs also said they were disappointed with the level of funding allocated for doctors in the national budget. 

“The Labor Party was clear before the election that they would increase the basic funding in the GP scheme. This is by far the most important measure to ensure stability and recruitment and it is urgent,” the pair told Norwegian newswire NTB.

Patients have been left frustrated, and in a recent survey on healthcare in the country, one reader of The Local expressed their frustration at not having a GP. 

“I moved from Olso to Tromso, and I’m currently without a GP. Helsenorge didn’t think this was an issue and told me to visit a hospital if I needed to see a doctor. How can a municipality have no places for a doctor? Everyone has a right to a local doctor, and I’ve been left with nothing. All I can do is join a waiting list in the hopes a place turns up before I get ill,” Sinead from Tromsø said in the survey. 

Another reader described the fastlege system as “horrible”. 

Key vocabulary

Fastlege– GP 

Legevakt– Emergency room

Sykehus– Hospital 

Helseforsikring– Health insurance

Legekontor- Doctors office

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