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Title: Paramecium  
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Subject: ParameciumDB, Protozoa, Paramecium bursaria, Litostomatea, Didinium
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Paramecium aurelia
Scientific classification
Domain: Eukaryota
(unranked): Sar
Superphylum: Alveolata
Phylum: Ciliophora
Class: Oligohymenophorea
Order: Peniculida
Family: Parameciidae
Genus: Paramecium
Müller, 1773

Paramecium (, [1] or , ) is a genus of white rat" of the phylum Ciliophora.[2]


  • Historical background 1
  • Description 2
  • Movement 3
  • Gathering food 4
  • Symbiosis 5
  • Genome 6
  • Learning 7
  • Reproduction and sexual phenomena 8
  • Aging 9
  • Meiosis and rejuvenation 10
  • Video gallery 11
  • List of species 12
  • References 13
  • External links 14

Historical background

Paramecia, illustrated by Otto Müller, 1773.
"Slipper animalcule," illustrated by Louis Joblot, 1718.

Paramecia were among the first ciliates to be seen by microscopists, in the late 17th century. They were probably known to the Dutch pioneer of protozoology, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, and were clearly described by his contemporary Christiaan Huygens in a letter of 1678.[3] In 1718, the French mathematics teacher and microscopist Louis Joblot published a description and illustration of a microscopic "poisson" (fish), which he discovered in an infusion of oak bark in water. Joblot gave this creature the name "Chausson," or "Slipper," and the phrase "slipper animalcule" remained in use as a colloquial epithet for Paramecium, throughout the 18th and 19th centuries.[4] The name "Paramecium"—constructed from the Greek παραμήκης (paramēkēs, "oblong") -- was coined in 1752 by the English microscopist John Hill, who applied the name generally to "Animalcules which have no visible limbs or tails, and are of an irregularly oblong figure." [5] In 1773, O. F. Müller, the first researcher to place the genus within the Linnaean system of taxonomy, adopted the name Paramecium, but changed the spelling to Paramœcium. C. G. Ehrenberg, in a major study of the infusoria published in 1838, restored Hill's original spelling for the genus name, and most researchers have followed his lead.[6]


Paramecium diagram. The parts are as follows: 1) food vacuoles 2) micronucleus 3) oral groove 4) gullet 5) anal pore 6) contractile vacuole 7) macronucleus 8) cilia.

Species of Paramecium range in size from 50 to 330 micrometres (0.0020 to 0.0130 in) in length. Cells are typically ovoid, elongate, foot- or cigar-shaped. The body of the cell is enclosed by a stiff but elastic membrane (mixotrophs, deriving some nutrients from endosymbiontic algae (chlorella) carried in the cytoplasm of the cell.[8]

Osmoregulation is carried out by contractile vacuoles, which actively expel water from the cell to compensate for fluid absorbed by osmosis from its surroundings.[9] The number of contractile vacuoles varies from one, to many, depending on species.[10]


Paramecia propel themselves by whiplash movements of their cilia, which are arranged in tightly spaced rows around the outside of their body. The beat of each cilium has two phases: a fast "effective stroke," during which the cilium is relatively stiff, followed by a slow "recovery stroke," during which the cilium curls loosely to one side and sweeps forward in a counter-clockwise fashion. The densely arrayed cilia move in a coordinated fashion, with waves of activity moving across the "ciliary carpet," creating an effect sometimes likened to that of the wind blowing across a field of grain.[11]

The Paramecium spirals through the water, as it progresses. When it happens to encounter an obstacle, the "effective stroke" of its cilia is reversed and the organism swims backward for a brief time, before resuming its forward progress. If it runs into the solid object again, it will repeat this process, until it can get past the object.[12]

It has been calculated that a Paramecium expends more than half of its energy in propelling itself through the water.[13] Its method of locomotion has been found to be less than 1% efficient. This low percentage is, nevertheless, close to the maximum theoretical efficiency that can be achieved by an organism equipped with cilia as short as those of Paramecium.[14]

Gathering food

Paramecia feed on microorganisms like bacteria, algae, and yeasts. To gather food, the Paramecium uses its cilia to sweep prey organisms, along with some water, through the oral groove, and into the mouth opening. The food passes through the cell mouth into the gullet. When enough food has accumulated at the gullet base, it forms a vacuole in the cytoplasm, which then begins circulating through the cell, starting at the back end. As it moves along, enzymes from the cytoplasm enter the vacuole to digest the contents; digested nutrients then pass into the cytoplasm, and the vacuole shrinks. When the vacuole, with its fully digested contents, reaches the anal pore, it ruptures, expelling its waste contents to the environment.[15][16]


Some species of Paramecium form endosymbiotic green algae, from which they derive nutrients and a degree of protection from predators such as Didinium nasutum.[17][18] Numerous bacterial endosymbionts have been identified in species of Paramecium.[19]


The genome of the species Paramecium tetraurelia has been sequenced, providing evidence for three whole-genome duplications.[20]

In some ciliates, like Stylonychia and Paramecium, only UGA is decoded as a stop codon, while UAG and UAA are reassigned as sense codons.[21]


The question of whether paramecia exhibit learning has been the object of a great deal of experimentation, yielding equivocal results. However, a study published in 2006 seems to show that Paramecium caudatum may be trained, through the application of a 6.5 volt electric current, to discriminate between brightness levels.[22] This experiment has been cited as a possible instance of cell memory, or nervous system.[23]

Reproduction and sexual phenomena

Like all ciliates, Paramecia have a dual nuclear apparatus, consisting of a polyploid macronucleus, and one or more diploid micronuclei. The macronucleus controls non-reproductive cell functions, expressing the genes needed for daily functioning. The micronucleus is the generative, or germline nucleus, containing the genetic material that is passed along from one generation to the next.[24]

Paramecia reproduce asexually, by binary fission. During reproduction, the macronucleus splits by a type of amitosis, and the micronuclei undergo mitosis. The cell then divides transversally, and each new cell obtains a copy of the micronucleus and the macronucleus.[25]

Fission may occur spontaneously, in the course of the vegetative diploid micronuclei. The old macronuclei are destroyed, and new ones are developed from the new micronuclei.[27]

Autogamy or conjugation can be induced by shortage of food, at certain points in the Paramecium life cycle.[28]


In the asexual fission phase of growth, during which cell divisions occur by mitosis rather than meiosis, clonal aging occurs leading to a gradual loss of vitality. In some species, such as the well studied Paramecium tetraurelia, the asexual line of clonally aging paramecia loses vitality and expires after about 200 fissions if the cells fail to undergo autogamy or conjugation. The basis for clonal aging was clarified by transplantation experiments of Aufderheide.[29] When macronuclei of clonally young paramecia were injected into paramecia of standard clonal age, the lifespan (clonal fissions) of the recipient was prolonged. In contrast, transfer of cytoplasm from clonally young paramecia did not prolong the lifespan of the recipient. These experiments indicated that the macronucleus, rather than the cytoplasm, is responsible for clonal aging. Other experiments by Smith-Sonneborn,[30] Holmes and Holmes[31] and Gilley and Blackburn[32] demonstrated that, during clonal aging, DNA damage increases dramatically (also reviewed by Bernstein and Bernstein.[33] Thus, DNA damage in the macronucleus appears to be the cause of aging in P. tetraurelia. In this single-celled protist, aging appears to proceed as it does in multicellular eukaryotes, as described in DNA damage theory of aging.

Meiosis and rejuvenation

When clonally aged P. tetraurelia are stimulated to undergo meiosis in association with either conjugation or automixis, the progeny are rejuvenated, and are able to have many more mitotic binary fission divisions. During either of these processes the micronuclei of the cell(s) undergo meiosis, the old macronucleus disintegrates and a new macronucleus is formed by replication of the micronuclear DNA that had recently undergone meiosis. There is apparently little, if any, DNA damage in the new macronucleus. These findings suggest that clonal aging is due, in large part, to a progressive accumulation of DNA damages (see DNA damage theory of aging); and that rejuvenation is due to the repair of these damages in the micronucleus during meiosis. Meiosis appears to be an adaptation for DNA repair and rejuvenation in these paramecia.[34]

Video gallery

List of species


  1. ^
  2. ^ Lynn, Denis. The Ciliated Protozoa: Characterization, Classification, and Guide to the Literature. Springer, 2010. 279.
  3. ^ Dobell, Clifford. Antony van Leeuwenhoek and his "Little Animals". New York: Dover, 1932, 1960. 164-5. ISBN 0-486-60594-9
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ Woodruff, Lorande Loss. "The structure, life history, and intrageneric relationships of Paramecium calkinsi, sp. nov." The Biological Bulletin 41.3 (1921): 171-180.
  7. ^ Curds, Colin R., M. A. Gates, and D. M. Roberts. British and other freshwater ciliated protozoa. Cambridge University Press, 1983. Vol. 2. 126
  8. ^ Esteban, Genoveva F., Tom Fenchel, and Bland J. Finlay. "Mixotrophy in ciliates." Protist 161.5 (2010): 621-641.
  9. ^
  10. ^ Curds, Colin R., M. A. Gates, and D. M. Roberts. British and other freshwater ciliated protozoa. Cambridge University Press, 1983. Vol. 2. 126
  11. ^ Blake, John R., and Michael A. Sleigh. "Mechanics of ciliary locomotion." Biological Reviews 49.1 (1974): 85-125.
  12. ^ Ogura, A., and K. Takahashi. "Artificial deciliation causes loss of calcium-dependent responses in Paramecium." (1976): 170-172.
  13. ^ Katsu-Kimura, Yumiko, et al. "Substantial energy expenditure for locomotion in ciliates verified by means of simultaneous measurement of oxygen consumption rate and swimming speed." Journal of Experimental Biology 212.12 (2009): 1819-1824.
  14. ^ Osterman, Natan, and Andrej Vilfan. "Finding the ciliary beating pattern with optimal efficiency." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 108.38 (2011): 15732.
  15. ^ Reece et al., Jane B. (2011). Campbell Biology. San Francisco, California: Pearson Education. pp. 584. ISBN 0321558235 / 0-321-55823-5.
  16. ^ Mast, S. O. "The food-vacuole in Paramecium." The Biological Bulletin 92.1 (1947): 31-72.
  17. ^ BERGER, JACQUES. "Feeding behaviour of Didinium nasutum on Paramecium bursaria with normal or apochlorotic zoochlorellae." Journal of General Microbiology 118.2 (1980): 397-404.
  18. ^ Kreutz, Martin, Thorsten Stoeck, and Wilhelm Foissner. "Morphological and Molecular Characterization of Paramecium (Viridoparamecium nov. subgen.) chlorelligerum Kahl (Ciliophora)." Journal of Eukaryotic Microbiology (2012).
  19. ^ See
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^ Ginsburg, Simona, and Eva Jablonka. "Epigenetic learning in non-neural organisms." Journal of biosciences 34.4 (2009): 633-646.
  24. ^ Prescott, D. M., et al. "DNA of ciliated protozoa." Chromosoma 34.4 (1971): 355-366.
  25. ^ Lynn, Denis. The ciliated protozoa: characterization, classification, and guide to the literature. Springer, 2010. 279.
  26. ^ Berger, James D. "Autogamy in Paramecium cell cycle stage-specific commitment to meiosis." Experimental cell research 166.2 (1986): 475-485.
  27. ^ Prescott, D. M., et al. "DNA of ciliated protozoa." Chromosoma 34.4 (1971): 355-366.
  28. ^ Beale, Geoffrey, and John R. Preer Jr. Paramecium: genetics and epigenetics. CRC, 2008.
  29. ^ Aufderheide KJ (1986–1987). Clonal aging in Paramecium tetraurelia. II. Evidence of functional changes in the macronucleus with age. Mech Ageing Dev. 37(3):265-279. PMID 3553762
  30. ^ Smith-Sonneborn J (1979) DNA repair and longevity assurance in Paramecium tetraurelia. Science 203(4385):1115-1117. PMID 424739
  31. ^ Holmes GE, Holmes NR (1986) Accumulation of DNA damages in aging Paramecium tetraurelia. Mol Gen Genet 204(1):108-114. PMID 3091993
  32. ^ Gilley D, Blackburn EH (1994) Lack of telomere shortening during senescence in Paramecium. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 91(5):1955-1958. PMID 8127914
  33. ^ Bernstein C, Bernstein H. (1991) Aging, Sex, and DNA Repair. Academic Press, San Diego. ISBN 0120928604 ISBN 978-0120928606, 1991, see pp. 153-156)
  34. ^ Bernstein H and Bernstein C (2013). Evolutionary Origin and Adaptive Function of Meiosis. In Meiosis: Bernstein C and Bernstein H, editors. ISBN 978-953-51-1197-9, InTech,

External links

  • brief facts, modes of reproductionParamecium tetraurelia/ Paramecium
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