Category Archives: protists

Friday Fellow: Giant Amoeba

by Piter Kehoma Boll

The adjective “giant” can be quite relative. When regarding microorganisms, even something with a few milimeters can be considered a giant, and that is the case with the giant amoeba Chaos carolinense (sometimes wrongly written as Chaos carolinensis).

Chaos_carolinense

A chaotic mess as any good amoeba. Photo by Tsukii Yuuji.

Measuring up to 5 mm in length, the giant amoeba is a freshwater organism and is easily seen with the naked eye and, since it is also easily cultivated in the laboratory, it became widely used in laboratory studies.

As with amoebas in general, the giant amoeba has an irregular cell with several pseudopods that can contract and expand. The cell has hundreds of nuclei, as it is common with species of the genus Chaos, this being the main difference between them and the closely related genus Amoeba.

The diet of the giant amoeba is variable and includes bacteria, algae, protozoan and even some small animals. In the lab, they are usually fed with ciliates of the genus Paramecium.

Chaos (Pelomyxa) carolinensisChaos with paramecium prey

A specimen of Chaos carolinense feeding on several individuals of Paramecium. Photo by Carolina Biological Supply Company.*

Wouldn’t the giant amoeba make a nice unicelular pet?

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References:

Tan, O. L. L.; Almsherqi, Z. A. M.; Deng, Y. (2005) A simple mass culture of the amoeba Chaos carolinense: revisit. Protistology, 4(2): 185–190.

Wikipedia. Chaos (genus). Available at: <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chaos_(genus)&gt;. Access on June 20, 2017.

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Friday Fellow: Bubble Globigerina

by Piter Kehoma Boll

A little more than a year ago I introduced the first foraminifer here, the tepid ammonia. Now it is time to bring the second one, this time a planctonic species that is rather famous and whose scientific name is Globigerina bulloides, or the bubble globigerina as I call it.

Globigerina_bulloides

A live specimen of Globigerina bulloides. Photo extracted from Words in mOcean.

This species can be found throughout the world, but it’s more common in cold subantarctic waters and a little less common in subarctic waters. The most common areas are the North and South Atlantic and the Indian Oceans, but the tropical records are most likely a misidentification of other closely related species.

The bubble globigerina usually lives in the upper 60 m of the water column, at least while reproducing, and feeds on other planktonic organisms, especially microscopic algae. In oder to maximize the ability of their gametes to meet in the vast extension of the ocean, the bubble globigerina synchronizes its sexual cycle with the moon cycle, reproducing during the first week after the new moon. It is, therefore, a kind of biological calendar.

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ResearchBlogging.orgReferences:

Bé, A. W. H.; Tolderlund, D. S. 1972. Distribution and ecology of living planktonic Foraminifera in surface waters of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. In: Funnell, B. M.; Riedel, R. (Eds.) The Micropaleontology of Oceans, Cambridge University Press, pp. 105–150.

Schiebel, R., Bijma, J., & Hemleben, C. (1997). Population dynamics of the planktic foraminifer Globigerina bulloides from the eastern North Atlantic Deep Sea Research Part I: Oceanographic Research Papers, 44 (9-10), 1701-1713 DOI: 10.1016/S0967-0637(97)00036-8

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Friday Fellow: Downy Mildew

by Piter Kehoma Boll

Last week I introduced a serious plant pathogen, the gray mold, that attacks many crops and has a special role as either a bad or a good guy in wine grapes. But a plant that is never happy with an infection by the gray mold is certainly the lettuce. And in this case our juicy vegetable has an enemy that makes it susceptible to the mold, and I’m bringing it to you today.

Named Bremia lactucae, this organism is a oomycete, thus belonging to a group of organisms that was formerly classified as a fungus, but that currently is known to be more closely related to brown and golden algae. This species attacks lettuces and closely related plants, causing a disease called downy mildew.

Bremia_lactucae

A lettuce leaf with downy mildew. Photo by Gerald Holmes.*

The downy mildew is the most important disease affecting lettuce worldwide. The disease itself is not the main problem, although it decreases the quality of the crop. Its main problem is that it makes the vegetable more vulnerable to other infections, such as those by the gray mold, and also increases the risk of contamination by human pathogens, such as intestinal parasites.

Bremia_lactucae1

A branch of the downy mildew under the microscope. Photo by Bruce Watt.*

The usual forms of controling the spread of the downy mildew is by using fungicides and developing mildew-resistant lettuces by hybridization with wild and naturally resistant varieties. However, as usual, the downy mildew eventually adapts to this, giving rise to fungicide-resistant strains, as well as strains able to neutralize the resistance of lettuce lineages. It’s one more evolutionary arms race.

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ResearchBlogging.orgReferences:

Beharav, A., Ochoa, O., & Michelmore, R. (2013). Resistance in natural populations of three wild Lactuca species from Israel to highly virulent Californian isolates of Bremia lactucae Genetic Resources and Crop Evolution, 61 (3), 603-609 DOI: 10.1007/s10722-013-0062-5

Parra, L., Maisonneuve, B., Lebeda, A., Schut, J., Christopoulou, M., Jeuken, M., McHale, L., Truco, M., Crute, I., & Michelmore, R. (2016). Rationalization of genes for resistance to Bremia lactucae in lettuce Euphytica, 210 (3), 309-326 DOI: 10.1007/s10681-016-1687-1

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Friday Fellow: Toxo

by Piter Kehoma Boll

If I had to bet on a parasite that you who are reading this probably have in your body, I’d go for today’s fellow, the protist Toxoplasma gondii, sometimes simply called toxo.

Found worldwide, the toxo is one of the most common parasites in humans, with estimations that about half of the world’s population is infected. Fortunately, this creature usually occurs in a latent form and does not offer great risks, but eventually it may develop into a more serious condition called toxoplasmosis, especially in people with weakened immunity.

But let’s take a closer look at this tiny fellow.

Toxoplasma_gondii_oocyst

Oocysts of Toxoplasma gondii. This is the form found in the environment and that can start an infection in your body.

The toxo is a protist belonging to the phylum Apicomplexa, a group of parasitic alveolates that also includes the agent that causes malaria. Although traditionally considered a protozoan, the apicomplexans are closely related to dinoflagellates (which are generally considered as a group of algae). They have a unique organelle called apicoplast, which they use to penetrate a host cell. The apicoplast is derived from a plastid (such as the chloropast), so in a certain way we can say that the apicomplexans are algae that evolved into intracellular parasites!

Toxoplasma_gondii_tachy

Tachyzoites of Toxoplasma gondii stained with Giesma from the peritoneal fluid of a mouse.

The life cycle of the toxo is kind of complex. Let’s start with the inactive form called oocyst, which may be found in the environment. If a warm-blooded animal ingests an oocyst, it will “burst” inside the gut of the animal and release several “quick-moving” forms called tachyzoites. The tachyzoites invade almost any cell of the body and multiply asexually inside it until the cell dies and release them, allowing them to infect more and more cells. When invading the brain, liver and muscles, the tachyzoites usually differentiate into cysts that become inactive. In this stage, the only thing that the toxo wants is that a cat (any species of the family Felidae) eats the host. It may even change the host’s behavior in order to make it bolder and more easily accessible to predators.

Toxoplasma_gondii_cyst

A cyst of Toxoplasma gondii that forms in the muscles, brain and liver of any warm-blooded anymal. All the cyst wants is to be eaten by a cat!

Now let’s assume that a cat ate the host (that was likely a bird or mouse). Inside the cat’s gut, the cyst burst and releases several “slow-moving” forms called bradyzoites. This form invades the epithelial cells of the cat’s intestine and multiply asexually inside them. Eventually, the bradyzoites differentiate into either tachyzoites or gametocytes (sperm- and egg-like cells). When two gametocytes fuse, they form a zygote that matures into an oocyst and is released into the environment, restarting the cycle.

Toxoplasma_life_cycle

The complex life cycle of Toxoplasma gondii. Credits to Mariana Ruiz Villarreal.

As always, the lifecycle of parasites is a wonderful adventure!

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ResearchBlogging.orgReferences:

Tenter, A., Heckeroth, A., & Weiss, L. (2000). Toxoplasma gondii: from animals to humans International Journal for Parasitology, 30 (12-13), 1217-1258 DOI: 10.1016/S0020-7519(00)00124-7

Wikipedia. Toxoplasma gondii. Available at <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toxoplasma_gondii&gt;. Access on March 6, 2017.

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Friday Fellow: Crawling Spider Alga

by Piter Kehoma Boll

The world of unicelular creatures includes fascinating species, some of which were already presented here. And today one more is coming, the marine phytoplanctonic amoeboid protist Chlorarachnion reptans, which again is a species without a common name, so I created one: crawling spider alga.

chlorarachnion_reptans

A plasmodium of the crawling spider alga Chlorarachnion reptans. Photo by Wikimedia user NEON.*

The crawling spider alga was dicovered in the Canary Islands in 1930. It is an amoeboid alga that forms plasmodia (multinucleated networks) of cells connected by thin strips of cytoplasm (reticulopodia). The reticulopodia are also used to capture prey (bacteria and smaller protists, especially algae) working kind of like a spider web. Additionally, the crawling spider alga has chloroplasts, so being able to conduct photosynthesis. It is, therefore, a mixotrophic organism, having more than one way of feeding.

The chloroplasts of the crawling spider alga, as well of other species in its group, called Chlorarachniophyceae, have four membrane layers and appears to have evolved from a green alga that was ingested and became an endosymbiont. As a result, the chloroplast of the crawling spider alga has two sets of DNA, one from the original chloroplast that came from an endosymbiotic cyanobacteria (located inside the inner membrane) and one of the green algae (between the two inner and the two outer membranes).

Although traditionally seen as a group of algae, the chlorarachniophytes are not closely related to the more “typical” algae, such as red, green, brown and golden algae or diatoms. They are actually relatives of other protists with thin net- or thread- like pseudopods, such as radiolarians and foraminifers, forming with them the group Rhizaria.

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ResearchBlogging.orgReferences:

AlgaeBase. Chlorarachnion reptans Geitler. Available at <http://www.algaebase.org/search/species/detail/?species_id=59340&gt;. Access on March 5, 2017.

EOL – Encyclopedia of Life. Chlorarachnion reptans. Available at <http://eol.org/pages/897235/overview&gt;. Access on March 5, 2017.

Hibberd, D., & Norris, R. (1984). Cytology and ultrastructure of Chlorarachnion reptans (Chlorarachniophyta divisio nova, Chlorarachniophyceae classis nova) Journal of Phycology, 20 (2), 310-330 DOI: 10.1111/j.0022-3646.1984.00310.x

Ludwig, M., & Gibbs, S. (1989). Evidence that the nucleomorphs of Chlorarachnion reptans (Chloraracnhiophyceae) are vestigial nuclei: morphology, division and DNA-DAPI fluorescence Journal of Phycology, 25 (2), 385-394 DOI: 10.1111/j.1529-8817.1989.tb00135.x

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Friday Fellow: Divergent Dinobryon

by Piter Kehoma Boll

Let’s return once more to the troublesome and neglected protists. This time I’m bringing you another tiny but beautiful alga, more precisely a golden alga. Its name is Dinobryon divergens and as usual there is no common name, so I invented one by simply translating the scientific name, thus I’ll call it the divergent dinobryon.

The divergent dinobryon is part of the class Chrysophyceae, commonly known as golden algae. Measuring about 50 µm in length, it lives in temperate lakes around the world and forms colonies composed of about 6 to 50 ovoid cells that are surrounded by a vase-like shell (lorica) of cellulose, as seen in the picture below.

dinobryon_divergens

A branching colony of Dinobryon divergens. The cells are clearly visible inside the lorica. Photo by Frank Fox.*

During colony formation, an original cell divides and one of the two daughter cells slides to the opening of the lorica and starts to construct a new one. It starts by creating the base of the lorica, which has a funnel shape and is attached to the inner wall of the original lorica. With further divisions, the colony starts to grow in a tree-like form. And the most interesting part is that the cells have two flagella and use them to swim, pulling the whole colony through the water.

As with other golden algae, the divergent dinobryon produces an internal siliceous structure that is globose, hollow and has a single opening connecting to the outside. This structure is called a statospore or stomatocyst and allows the cell to enter a resting state (cyst). The statospore is an important structure to help distinguish different species of golden algae.

The divergent dinobryon is a mixotrophic organism, meaning that it feeds by photosynthesis and by ingesting food too, especially bacteria. Kind of an interesting fellow, don’t you think?

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ResearchBlogging.orgReferences:

Franke, W., & Herth, W. (1973). Cell and lorica fine structure of the chrysomonad alga, Dinobryon sertularia Ehr. (Chrysophyceae) Archiv für Mikrobiologie, 91 (4), 323-344 DOI: 10.1007/BF00425052

Herth, W. (1979). Behaviour of the chrysoflagellate alga, Dinobryon divergens, during lorica formation Protoplasma, 100 (3-4), 345-351 DOI: 10.1007/BF01279321

Karim, A., & Round, F. (1967). Microfibrils in the lorica of the freshwater alga Dinobryon New Phytologist, 66 (3), 409-412 DOI: 10.1111/j.1469-8137.1967.tb06020.x

Sandgren, C. (1981). Characteristics of sexual and asexual resting cyst (statospore) formation in Dinobryon cylindricum Imhof (Chrysophyta) Journal of Phycology, 17 (2), 199-210 DOI: 10.1111/j.1529-8817.1981.tb00840.x

Sheath, R., Hellebust, J., & Sawa, T. (1975). The statospore of Dinobryon divergens Imhof: Formation and germination in a subarctic lake Journal of Phycology, 11 (2), 131-138 DOI: 10.1111/j.1529-8817.1975.tb02760.x

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Friday Fellow: B. coli

by Piter Kehoma Boll

It’s time to give more space for parasites, including human parasites! So today our fellow comes right from the stool of many mammals, including humans. Its name is Balantidium coli, or B. coli for short.

B. coli is a ciliate, i.e., a member of the phylum Ciliophora, a group of protists that have their cells covered by cilia, which are nothing more than very short and numerous flagella. Most ciliates are free-living organisms, and in fact B. coli is the only ciliate known to be harmful to humans, but not only to humans. Many other mammals are also known to host this fellow, especially pigs.

balantidium_coli

The red elongate macronucleus of B. coli makes it look like a bad guy, don’t you think? Photo extracted from http://www.southampton.ac.uk/~ceb/Diagnosis/Vol2.htm

The typicall habitat of B. coli is the large intestine of mammals. The protist lives there in an active phase called trophozoite (seen in the image above) and feeds on the natural bacteria that live in the gut. When facing dehydration, which happens in the final portion of the intestine or after the organism is released with the feces, B. coli changes to an inactive phase called cyst, which is smaller than the trophozoite and covered by a thick wall. The cysts released in the environment may be ingested by a new host and reach their intestine, where they will return to the trophozoite form.

balantidium_coli2

A cyst of B.coli. Photo extracted from http://www.southampton.ac.uk/~ceb/Diagnosis/Vol2.htm

Symptoms of infection by B. coli, also known as balantidiasis, include explosive diarrhea every 20 minutes and, in acute infections, it may cause perforation of the colon and become a life-threatening condition.

Fortunately, infection in humans is not that common. The most affected country nowadays are the Philippines, but you may get infected anywhere. The best way to reduce the infection risks is by having good sanitary conditions and personal hygiene. However, as pigs are the most common vectors of the disease, it will likely continue to exist as long as humans raise pigs.

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ResearchBlogging.orgReferences:

Schuster, F., & Ramirez-Avila, L. (2008). Current World Status of Balantidium coli Clinical Microbiology Reviews, 21 (4), 626-638 DOI: 10.1128/CMR.00021-08

Wikipedia. Balantidium coli. Available at <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balantidium_coli&gt;. Access on February 23, 2017.

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