The Plastic Brain

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From my favourite protistologist, Psi Wavefunction.

This is a heterotrophic euglenid, perhaps a Peranema sp., exhibiting metaboly in all its splendour. The cell might be slightly squashed or otherwise damaged, keeping the flagellate conveniently in one place. The clear vesicle near the base of the flagellum that grows and shrinks is the contractile vacuole, the flagellate’s analogue of the animal secretory system. At the tail end are refractile starch granules used to store energy. 

Metaboly is a form of cell movement that is most famously exemplified by ciliates, but also known in some other flagellates. It appears to be caused by the specific arrangement of microtubule (cell skeleton) bundles at the cell periphery, and greatly enhanced by the ‘armour plates’ of the euglenid surface, which is lined with long pellicle strips going from the flagellar insertion all the way to the tip of the ‘tail’ — as the cell twists about, the strips slide against each other and result in this movement. Euglenids with fused pellicle strips, like Phacus, are incapable of metaboly. The function of this movement is unknown, and there may not be any in particular.

The hairy thing next to the euglenid is a badly mangled ciliate.

Freshwater, Apr 2011, Vancouver

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Author: Rogan Tinsley

Biology, science and maths teacher with a PhD in Neuroscience and passion for education.

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