Field of Science

Dermamoeba – Having your coat and eating it too

This post was chosen as an Editor's Selection for ResearchBlogging.orgWe've been neglecting the micro-squishies lately (filose amoebae ain't proper squishies – too many fine protrusions in the way). Amoebozoa is a eukaryotic supergroup comprised of predominantly lobose amoebae, meaning their pseudopods are rounded and not fine and pointy (like those in the preceding post's organism – Filoreta). Aside from the test-bearing Arcellinids, amoebozoans tend to be naked amoebae ('gymnamoebae'), like the well-known Amoeba proteus, often erroneously referred to as a 'primitive', 'simple' or 'ancient' organism. "Naked amoeba" is a bit of a misnomer – while they don't lug rocks and heavy dishware around like testate amoebae, they generally carry some sort of cover, as most cells do. Gymnamoebae just pack light. Some, like Cochliopodium, dress themselves in intricate scales, while others, like many Vannellids, are covered in thin, pointy glycostyles. Dermamoeba, in turn, wears a thick, heavy coat.

5-8 Dermamoeba going about its business (n – nucleus, cv – contractile vacuole). 9 – Dermamoeba lounging about in cysts (c) upon devouring some algae (chain-forming diatom or some Trebonema-like thing). Nom nom nom. (Smirnov et al. 2011 EJP)

Dermamoeba's fine coat consists of thick bi-layered glycocalyx (a covering of fluffy sugar-proteins), sometimes with additional 'dense matter' lining the cell membrane. Upon encystation, an extra layer, the cell wall, is formed, but the contraption is thick enough without it already, at about half a micron.

EM sections through the intense Dermamoeba cell coat. m – cell membrane, gl – glycocalyx, adm – 'arrangement of dense material' (ie, "we don't know"). The glycocalyx often forms pretty patterns when sectioned. (15 is part of a Golgi body) (Smirnov et al. 2011 EJP)

This thick coat poses some problems of its own. Amoebae eat by engulfing prey with their pseudopods – and this involves some degree of nudity and cell membrane exposure. Half a micron of glycocalyx wouldn't be particularly flexible, and and not much fun to digest. Dermamoeba has to nibble on its coat before the meal. Upon contacting prey (typically algae), the amoeba forms a concave food cup around it, from the centre of which the cell coat gradually disappears. As the food cup deepens, the prey is pulled in to meet its doom via thick bundles of actin microfilaments spanning much of the cell – another unusual feature of this process. The prey is consequently engulfed for eventual digestion. As a result, the prey-containing vacuole has no glycocalyx for the amoeba to choke on (or rather, presumably, waste energy digesting).

Diagram of Dermamoeba's unusual feeding procedure. After the algal prey (al) is contacted by the amoeba (am), the glycocalyx (gl) is digested and the prey is drawn in by thick actin microfilament bundles (mf). The resulting food vacuole (fv) is conveniently devoid of coat material. (Smirnov et al. 2011 EJP)

And here the food cup is 'live', or was before some electron microscopist brutally murdered it in osmic acid and sliced it up:

EM sections through prey (al) being engulfed by the amoeba (am). Note the disappearance of the glycocalyx (gl) at the centre of the invagination. (Smirnov et al. 2011 EJP)

How do some of the other coat-bearing amoebae get around their irremovable clothing? Without going into much detail (amoebozoan surface coverings are really cool...), the glycostyle-bearing Pellita simple sticks small 'subpseudopodia' through it for both moving about and feeding. In fact, some propose that the glycostyles may help it move by reducing the surface area in contact with the substrate – keeping the sticky cell membrane away on stilts.

Top left: Pellita walking on stilts of glycostyles (depicted at the right). Bottom: extruding sub-feet across stilts for feeding. (Smirnov & Kudryavtsev 2005 EJP)

I'm decidedly avoiding amoebozoan systematics here. Christopher Taylor did a nice overview of it at the Catalogue of Organisms a while back, but keep in mind that some of the groups did jump around since then, and the phylogenies are in the works. Maybe if more people cared, the taxonomy could be resolved sooner...

PS: My committee* has voted to remove "Sunday Protist" from Sunday Protist titles, since:
a) They seldom come out on Sundays anyway (lulz); and
b) Takes up too much valuable headline real estate. Since we bloggers are supposedly playing pseudo-journalists or something, might as well play it right... ;-)
(and c) Structure and I aren't the best of friends.)

* Given how inefficient my brain is at accomplishing anything, I've concluded it can only be composed of a close neural approximation of a committee. Explains the indecisiveness as well. Probably requires a double majority to pass any major decisions, and hence is about as effective as the Californian government. Without the sovereign debt crisis, fortunately.

SMIRNOV, A., & KUDRYAVTSEV, A. (2005). Pellitidae n. fam. (Lobosea, Gymnamoebia) – a new family, accommodating two amoebae with an unusual cell coat and an original mode of locomotion, n.g., n.sp. and comb. nov European Journal of Protistology, 41 (4), 257-267 DOI: 10.1016/j.ejop.2005.05.002

Smirnov AV, Bedjagina OM, & Goodkov AV (2011). Dermamoeba algensis n. sp. (Amoebozoa, Dermamoebidae) – An algivorous lobose amoeba with complex cell coat and unusual feeding mode European Journal of Protistology : 10.1016/j.ejop.2010.12.002

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