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By the end of this section, you will be able to:
  • Describe the cell structure characteristics of protists
  • Describe the metabolic diversity of protists
  • Describe the life cycle diversity of protists

There are over 100,000 described living species of protists, and it is unclear how many undescribed species may exist. Since many protists live as commensals or parasites in other organisms and these relationships are often species-specific, there is a huge potential for protist diversity that matches the diversity of hosts. As the catchall term for eukaryotic organisms that are not animal, plant, or fungi, it is not surprising that very few characteristics are common to all protists.

Cell structure

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. 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.


Protists exhibit many forms of nutrition and may be aerobic or anaerobic. Protists that store energy by photosynthesis belong to a group of photoautotrophs and are characterized by the presence of chloroplasts. Other protists are heterotrophic and consume organic materials (such as other organisms) to obtain nutrition. Amoebas and some other heterotrophic protist species ingest particles by a process called phagocytosis, in which the cell membrane engulfs a food particle and brings it inward, pinching off an intracellular membranous sac, or vesicle, called a food vacuole ( [link] ). The vesicle containing the ingested particle, the phagosome, then fuses with a lysosome containing hydrolytic enzymes to produce a phagolysosome    , and the food particle is broken down into small molecules that can diffuse into the cytoplasm and be used in cellular metabolism. Undigested remains ultimately are expelled from the cell via exocytosis.

In this illustration, a eukaryotic cell is shown consuming a food particle. As the food particle is consumed, it is encapsulated in a vesicle. The vesicle fuses with a lysosome, and proteins inside the lysosome digest the food particle. Indigestible waste material is ejected from the cell when an exocytic vesicle fuses with the plasma membrane.
The stages of phagocytosis include the engulfment of a food particle, the digestion of the particle using hydrolytic enzymes contained within a lysosome, and the expulsion of undigested materials from the cell.

Subtypes of heterotrophs, called saprobes, absorb nutrients from dead organisms or their organic wastes. Some protists can function as mixotrophs , obtaining nutrition by photoautotrophic or heterotrophic routes, depending on whether sunlight or organic nutrients are available.

Questions & Answers

What is Staining?
Fazal Reply
what is biology
Biology is the study of life
what is biology
Ysabella Reply
biology is a study of living things
Biology is a diverse branch of science that deals with mostly living things
What happen when inhibit the transcription?
what is the effect of not doing sexual intercourse
what is the mechanism of cellular respiration
Rita Reply
what is enzyme
garry Reply
They are organic catalysts that alter the rate of chemical reactions in the body.
meaning they speed up reaction
Enzymes are forms of chemicals that are specialized in their own areas.(eg digestion of food)
what is a cell
Praize Reply
Basic Functional Unit of Life
what is biology
Mordi Reply
biology is the study of living organisms and their interactions with one another and their environments
which of the following event does not occur during some stages of interface?
Bangha Reply
What is microfilaments
KHalid Reply
What is multicellular organisms
Ovie Reply
these are organisms with more than two cells
the process when a male toad fertilizer a female eggs is called what?
Ahrebe Reply
how did unicellular organisms form plants and animals or is it that different unicellular organisms formed plants and animald
YXNG Reply
name the components of faeces
undigested carbohydrate, fibre
what are unicellular organisms..?
they have only one cell
faeces contains many undigested food materials, after the food has been digested then it will be absorbed in the blood stream for assimilation.,......... but the remains toxic materials are stored in the rectum these toxic materials are the faeces and it contains bile salts, the polysaccharides .
unicellular organisms are the ones with only single cell.
thanks for your answers guys.
what is class bryophyta
Emefa Reply
how many stages do we have in glycolysis?
10 stages
the presence of a membrane enclosed nuclosed is a characteristics of what
Addai Reply
eukaryotic cell

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Source:  OpenStax, Biology. OpenStax CNX. Feb 29, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11448/1.10
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