For most individuals, the first images seen through the lens of a microscope are protists -- unicellular organisms that don’t possess enough characteristics to be defined as purely plant or animal.
The organisms within the Kingdom Protista contain a nucleus, like all Eukaryotes, and are categorized as plant-like, animal-like or fungus-like.
are abundant in the world around us, usually thriving in aqueous
environments; they survive in bodies of water as well as the human body.
A sample of pond water or its moist surrounding area placed on a slide under
a compound microscope yields images of living organisms such as
paramecium and amoeba – inexpensive and easy, this is often a student’s
introduction to microscopy.
are live, often moving and differ with each drop of water; these
seemingly simple images provide the basis for identifying structures
within a cell – an invaluable foundation for the study of prokaryote and
Protists possess characteristics that make them “like" multi-cellular organisms, yet they lack certain properties to be classified as animal, plant or fungus. The presence of a nucleus in all protist organisms means they are all eukaryotic.
The three primary classifications in the Protista Kingdom and subsequent phylum include:
Many protists overlap in classification, such as lichen – considered a type of algae and fungus and some, like red algae, are amongst the few multi-cellular protista organisms.
Literally defined as “the very first," Protista are believed to be the first known organisms. However, it is important to note the miscellany nature of this Kingdom,
specifically that groups of protista are not related to one another in
the same manner as Eukaryotes and Prokaryotes.
Containing over 80 groups and over 115,000 species, the Kingdom Protista represents a wide range of Eukaryotic organisms bound only by the fact that they act like animals, plants or fungi.
In addition, parasitic protists such as sporozoans also fall under animal-like, but are categorized by the way they survive and diseases brought about in hosts.
Animal-like protozoan are also heterotrophic and contain organelles such as a cell membrane and food vacuole.
Considered the foundation of many aquatic food chains, responsible for over forty percent of photosynthesis that occurs in salt and fresh bodies of water, as well as essential to the production of oxygen in the atmosphere, plant-like protista are classified into three phylum:
Euglenophytes – one-celled Euglena are located in fresh water and contain chloroplasts; they possess plant and animal traits, functioning autotrophic when light and heterotrophic when dark
Chrysophytes – contain chlorophyll and are autotrophic through photosynthesis; examples include:
Green Algae – can live in fresh or salt water and sometimes moist land; many, like Volvox, form colonies
Red Algae (seaweed) – multi-cellular, live in deep salt water; in uncontrolled spurts, this algae has been responsible for ecological damages
Brown Algae – type of seaweed with large leafs called “blades," contain root and air sac structures; thrive in salt water; can grow to heights in excess of 100 feet; appear most plant-like of the algae
Dinoflagelles – contains chlorophyll and uses two flagella to move; creates a porous glass (silicon) shell; sometimes glows in the dark ocean floor
Fungus-like protists have cells walls similar to plants, which contain chitin, but
possess the animal-like function of heterotrophy. They release spores
into the air to reproduce and have the ability to move, although this
might only happen once during a lifespan.
Requiring a moist environment to survive, the three types of fungus-like protists are:
Slime molds – often seen on decaying plant life or trees, these protists sustain on bacteria and other microorganisms that appear on rotting plants under wet conditions; the two types, plasmodial and cellular, can appear in a range of colors
Water molds – live in shallow or damp places; can exist as decomposer or parasite; as a mold, it can be harmful if found in gardens and farms, detrimental to potatoes, corn and cabbage and can harm a host as a parasite; looks like a combination of fuzz and threads
Downey mildews – similar to water molds, downey mildews are harmful to certain vegetable life
Fungus-like organisms also have instances of overlapping. For example, certain slime molds are the result of stressed amoebas merging into a pseudoplasomodium (slug); this fungal “body" is able to relocate and reproduce by releasing spores.
types of protista organisms can be studied under a simple light
microscope and some, like fungus, can be seen with the naked eye.
Microscopy studies can be as easy as using a pipette to drop pond water onto a slide and viewing live paramecium as they move in their natural environment.
Advanced techniques such as dark field illumination or phase contrast
are used to view structures in greater detail. Comparing images from
each technique also yields valuable information.
Unicellular Eukaryotes, protists provide a foundation for viewing multi-cellular plants and animals. Often used in introductory microscope experiments, the first image many students see through a lens is an amoeba
Although members of the Kingdom Protista do not contain
all the organelles found in plants and animals, they do contain a
well-defined nucleus, providing a foundation for more advanced
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