Spirogyra make up a group of green algae that you might see just floating on top of water. But, believe it or not, scientists have learned that Spirogyra can actually control their movement. This lesson will explore Spirogyra as well as how they move.
Spirogyra. It sounds like a gymnastics move: Get ready, she’s about to do two backflips followed by a Spirogyra. Okay, so you’re right, Spirogyra isn’t a gymnastics move. It’s actually a tiny critter that belongs in the protist kingdom, which is a group of diverse single-celled organisms.
In fact, the kingdom is so diverse that scientists often describe it as the group of critters that did not fit into any other kingdom. Think of it as the misfit kingdom! Now, some members of this misfit kingdom can make their own food, like plants; some are more animal-like, and some even have characteristics of plants and animals!The protists called Spirogyra make up a group of about 400 species of green algae. They get their name because their chloroplasts, which are structures where photosynthesis takes place, form a spiral as you can see.
In addition to Spirogyra (which, let’s face it, is fun to say), people have come up with several other names for this spirally little bugger, like water-silk or mermaid’s tresses.
Neat, but they don’t sound like gymnastics moves. Spirogyra live in freshwater habitats from shallow ditches to the edges of mighty lakes, and they use their chloroplasts to change light energy into food (photosynthesis), just like your typical houseplants. You can also see that the individual Spirogyra cells link together to form long filament chains.
Each filament is like a human hair, so they’re pretty tiny. They are also quite pretty, aren’t they?
How Spirogyra Move
Now that you have some background on what Spirogyra are, let’s talk about how they move. Because they undergo photosynthesis, Spirogyra need to be able to get themselves into the light and, unlike other protists, they don’t have a tail or tiny hairs to propel them through the water. Most of the time, you can observe Spirogyra floating on the surface of the water. So, how in the world do these little buggers get there?Excellent question. Believe it or not, scientists are studying how Spirogyra move and here’s what they’ve come up with thus far.
A bunch of Spirogyra filaments will clump together forming a mat. The filaments in this mat will align themselves towards the light source. In an attempt to expose as much surface area to the light (for photosynthesis to take place), the filaments in the mat will bend or curve. Each filament in the mat will bend and then straighten out and then bend again.
This propels the filaments towards the light source. Hey, so Spirogyra does sound like a gymnast. This process is really slow though, so maybe a sloth gymnast! Scientists believe the individual filaments use the neighboring filaments in the mat to slide against to help propel them. Some scientists also suggest that the oxygen produced during photosynthesis helps keep the Spirogyra afloat once they get there.
Spirogyra encompasses about 400 species of green algae belonging to the kingdom of misfits, or the protists. They get their name because the chloroplasts spiral inside of the cells. Spirogyra form long filaments, and it’s the bending and curving of these filaments that allow these protists to move, albeit slowly, to orient themselves towards light.
And remember, they need light because they undergo photosynthesis. So, maybe the gymnastic world should go ahead and add Spirogyra to the list of gymnastic moves. I can hear it now: summersault, backflip, and Spirogyra. No?