The cells of protists are among the most elaborate of all cells. Most protists are microscopic and unicellular, but some true multicellular forms exist. A few protists live as colonies that behave in some ways as a group of free-living cells and in other ways as a multicellular organism. Still other protists are composed of enormous, multinucleate, single cells that look like amorphous blobs of slime, or in other cases, like ferns. In fact, many protist cells are multinucleated; in some species, the nuclei are different sizes and have distinct roles in protist cell function.
Single protist cells range in size from less than a micrometer to three meters in length to hectares (a single hectare is nearly 2.5 acres in size). Protist cells may be enveloped by animal-like cell membranes or plant-like cell walls. Others are encased in glassy silica-based shells or wound with pellicles of interlocking protein strips. The pellicle functions like a flexible coat of armor, preventing the protist from being torn or pierced without compromising its range of motion.
The majority of protists are motile, but different types of protists have evolved varied modes of movement (Figure 1). Some protists have one or more flagella, which they rotate or whip: these are typically euglena. Others are covered in rows or tufts of tiny cilia that they coordinately beat to swim—typically paramecium. Still others form cytoplasmic extensions called pseudopodia anywhere on the cell, anchor the pseudopodia to a substrate, and pull themselves forward in an “oozing” movement: these are typically amoeba.
Some protists can move toward or away from a stimulus, a movement referred to as taxis. Movement toward light, termed phototaxis, is accomplished by coupling their locomotion strategy with a light-sensing organ.
Protists that have a pellicle are surrounded by ______________.
- silica dioxide
- calcium carbonate
Which of these locomotor organs would likely be the shortest?
- a flagellum
- a cilium
- an extended pseudopod
- a pellicle