Learning Outcomes

  • Identify characteristics and examples of protists in the supergroup Amoebozoa

Like the Archaeplastida, the Amoebozoa include species with single cells, species with large multinucleated cells, and species that have multicellular phases. Amoebozoan cells characteristically exhibit pseudopodia that extend like tubes or flat lobes. These pseudopods project outward from anywhere on the cell surface and can anchor to a substrate. The protist then transports its cytoplasm into the pseudopod, thereby moving the entire cell. This type of motion is similar to the cytoplasmic streaming used to move organelles in the Archaeplastida, and is also used by other protists as a means of locomotion or as a method to distribute nutrients and oxygen. The Amoebozoa include both free-living and parasitic species.


The micrograph shows amoebas with lobe-like pseudopodia.

Figure 1. Amoebae with tubular and lobe-shaped pseudopodia are seen under a microscope. These isolates would be morphologically classified as amoebozoans.

The Gymnamoeba or lobose amoebae include both naked amoebae like the familiar Amoeba proteus and shelled amoebae, whose bodies protrude like snails from their protective tests. Amoeba proteus is a large amoeba about 500 µm in diameter but is dwarfed by the multinucleate amoebae Pelomyxa, which can be 10 times its size. Although Pelomyxa may have hundreds of nuclei, it has lost its mitochondria, but replaced them with bacterial endosymbionts. The secondary loss or modification of mitochondria is a feature also seen in other protist groups.

Slime Molds

A subset of the amoebozoans, the slime molds, has several morphological similarities to fungi that are thought to be the result of convergent evolution. For instance, during times of stress, some slime molds develop into spore-generating fruiting bodies, much like fungi.

The slime molds are categorized on the basis of their life cycles into plasmodial or cellular types. Plasmodial slime molds are composed of large, multinucleate cells and move along surfaces like an amorphous blob of slime during their feeding stage. Food particles are lifted and engulfed into the slime mold as it glides along. The “dog vomit” slime mold seen in Figure 2 is a particularly colorful specimen and its ability to creep about might well trigger suspicion of alien invasion. Upon maturation, the plasmodium takes on a net-like appearance with the ability to form fruiting bodies, or sporangia, during times of stress. Haploid spores are produced by meiosis within the sporangia, and spores can be disseminated through the air or water to potentially land in more favorable environments. If this occurs, the spores germinate to form ameboid or flagellate haploid cells that can combine with each other and produce a diploid zygotic slime mold to complete the life cycle.

Illustration shows the plasmodium slime mold life cycle, which begins when 1n spores germinate, giving rise to cells that can convert between amoeboid and flagellated forms. Fertilization of either cell type results in a 2n zygote. The zygote undergoes mitosis without cytokinesis, resulting in a single-celled, multinucleate mass visible to the naked eye. A photo inset shows that the plasmodium is bright yellow and looks like vomit. As the plasmodium matures, holes form in the center of the mass. Stalks with bulb-shaped sporangia at the top grow up from the mass. Spores are released when the sporangia burst open, completing the cycle.

Figure 2. The life cycle of the plasmodial slime mold is shown. The brightly colored plasmodium in the inset photo is a single-celled, multinucleate mass. (credit: modification of work by Dr. Jonatha Gott and the Center for RNA Molecular Biology, Case Western Reserve University)

The cellular slime molds function as independent amoeboid cells when nutrients are abundant. When food is depleted, cellular slime molds aggregate into a mass of cells that behaves as a single unit, called a slug. Some cells in the slug contribute to a 2–3-millimeter stalk, drying up and dying in the process. Cells atop the stalk form an asexual fruiting body that contains haploid spores (Figure 3). As with plasmodial slime molds, the spores are disseminated and can germinate if they land in a moist environment. One representative genus of the cellular slime molds is Dictyostelium, which commonly exists in the damp soil of forests.

The image shows several stages in the life cycle of Dictyostelium discoideum. It appears as fibers or very thin stalks topped with circular structures

Figure 3. Cellular Slime Mold. The image shows several stages in the life cycle of Dictyostelium discoideum, including aggregated cells, mobile slugs and their transformation into fruiting bodies with a cluster of spores supported by a stalk. (credit: By Usman Bashir (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons)

Watch this video to see the formation of a fruiting body by a cellular slime mold. Note that there isn’t any narration in the video.

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