Do microorganisms have a “handshake” – ciliate aggregation – Chilodonella 

Life at microscopic length scales is dense. As we often say, a tiny drop of a pond is “teeming”. So isn’t it obvious that they will physically interact with each other. After watching the video I am about to share; I wondered – old micro-organisms have a secret “handshake”. 

The idea is simple. Can single cell eukaryotes actually identify similar species while interacting with each other physically. When we bump into another fellow human being – we do a hand shake. So could microorganisms – specially ciliates – advance single cell organisms have a secret hand shake to detect each other. 

Here is a video of a common ciliate – Chilodonella (most likely) taken with a Foldscope (140x) and light module (hence the blue color).

What’s interesting to note is they form a cluster; and every time one of them is about to get out of the cluster configuration – it turns around and joins back. The cluster stayed for another minute or so; and suddenly – just like that; disappeared. These observations point to complexity of behavior of single celled organisms – and how much we still have left to learn from such simple observations. 

Now; if you have followed our Foldscope community for a while; you know of @Laks (Foldscope user) observations on a series of micro-organisms interacting with each other and “deciding” to disintegrate at a sudden notice (go to the bottom of the post for the video). 

Life in a liter of Pond water –Day 6: A mysterious dance, fun and games

As a community, we are starting to document many fascinating behaviors of live micro-organisms that are not understood. This fascinating ecological observations have a potential to truly expand our knowledge of what “life” is really like at the small scale. Making a database of microorganism behavior would be a wonderful endeavor I would invite other Foldscope users to join. Please share what strange behavior you have observed with your Foldscope. 

Cheers 

Manu 

2 Comments Add yours

  1. laksiyer says:

    @Manu. At one level I wonder if this behavior you observe and the one I saw are related. It is almost like an equation where if you change constants you get one kind of aggregative behavior or another. Contact-dependent kin selection is now commonly known in prokaryotes. Nothing is known of such in single-cell eukaryotes, although I am sure it is there, but the proteins and systems might be different. In the case of bacteria, it appears they use toxins and corresponding anti-toxins to recognize kin. If two bacteria are kin, then they have the same antitoxin for the toxin they shoot or stab into each other, but the fun is to preedict what would happen when they are not the same? Who wins? We have a theory of what the dynamics might be in the different scenarios we discovered in the below study..

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22731697

  2. laksiyer says:

    We have an unprecedented opportunity to join hands and observe every such behavioral pattern across the single-celled world.

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