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Reverse engineering the euglenoid movement

TitleReverse engineering the euglenoid movement
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2012
AuthorsArroyo, M, Heltai, L, Millán, D, DeSimone, A
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. Volume 109, Issue 44, 30 October 2012, Pages 17874-17879

Euglenids exhibit an unconventional motility strategy amongst unicellular eukaryotes, consisting of large-amplitude highly concerted deformations of the entire body (euglenoid movement or metaboly). A plastic cell envelope called pellicle mediates these deformations. Unlike ciliary or flagellar motility, the biophysics of this mode is not well understood, including its efficiency and molecular machinery. We quantitatively examine video recordings of four euglenids executing such motions with statistical learning methods. This analysis reveals strokes of high uniformity in shape and pace. We then interpret the observations in the light of a theory for the pellicle kinematics, providing a precise understanding of the link between local actuation by pellicle shear and shape control. We systematically understand common observations, such as the helical conformations of the pellicle, and identify previously unnoticed features of metaboly. While two of our euglenids execute their stroke at constant body volume, the other two exhibit deviations of about 20% from their average volume, challenging current models of low Reynolds number locomotion. We find that the active pellicle shear deformations causing shape changes can reach 340%, and estimate the velocity of the molecular motors. Moreover, we find that metaboly accomplishes locomotion at hydrodynamic efficiencies comparable to those of ciliates and flagellates. Our results suggest new quantitative experiments, provide insight into the evolutionary history of euglenids, and suggest that the pellicle may serve as a model for engineered active surfaces with applications in microfluidics.


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