In the early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers from the University of Arizona and Brown University explain how flagella allow these algae to get the energy they need to multiply and create colonies – the critical secret that allowed them to evolve into multicellular organisms.
Munching in motion
The beating flagella of a Volvox colony creates a flow of water around it, visible here through the use of miniscule, illuminated plastic beads. The coordinated beating of flagella creates a nutrient-rich environment for the colony. Image: University of Arizona
“This is the first evidence that flagella not only help organisms move, but can help them feed at a rate that allowed them to evolve to a larger size,” said Thomas Powers, an assistant professor of engineering at Brown who studies microorganisms in motion. “This is a critical piece of information, since understanding how one-celled life forms evolve into many-celled ones is a fundamental question in biology.”
The team studied a group of green algae known as the volvocines, organisms so common they can be found in puddles of rain. Biologists study the group, which runs the gamut from single-celled organisms to teeming colonies, to understand how cells differentiate and multiply. But how did the volvocines jump from solo cells to Volvox, a colony of as many as 50,000 cells?
It’s a puzzler of a question, given the size of a Volvox colony and the laws of physics. Bigger organisms need more energy – a lot more energy – to survive. And Volvox is the largest colony that the volvocines make, a giant ball of flagella-waving body guards protecting a small cluster of reproductive cells. When the radius of the spherical colony increases by a factor of two, the area of the sphere increases by a factor of four. So it follows that the energy demands for Volvox would quadruple, too, as it grows.
Yet microscopic organisms such as volvocines get nutrients through diffusion, a process by which bits of food bump into the cell and pass through the cell membrane. Doubling the radius of the colony doubles – not quadruples – the colony’s food intake rate. So a large organism such as a Volvox colony shouldn’t survive because it would demand more energy than passive feeding could supply, a conundrum that researchers refer to as the “bottleneck problem.”
The research team had a hunch that flagella somehow played a role in bringing in nutrients needed for Volvox to grow and survive. Raymond Goldstein, a professor of physics and applied mathematics at the University of Arizona, gathered together a group of scientists with expertise in physics, mathematics, engineering and biology to work on the problem.
The team created a mathematical model that allowed them to calculate how the flagella created a flow of water around the colony and verified this prediction with experimental measurements. Then they used the model to show that the coordinated beating of the flagella concentrated the nutrients just ahead of the moving colony. The colony plows into this nutrient-rich region and leaves a plume of waste in its wake.
So a Volvox colony doesn’t just passively feed, it actively increases the concentration of nutrients around it using its flagella. Put another way, these tiny protein whips not only acts as legs, but also as arms, gathering in food the colony needs to grow and thrive.
Powers, brought in to help with biomechanical theory, said the surprise in the finding is that the nutrient current created by Volvox was proportional to the surface area of the colony. In other words, Volvox met its rapidly increasing demand for nutrients through flagellar beating, allowing the organism to make the multicellular leap.
“Previous models would have predicted that the nutrient demands of Volvox would outstrip the supply,” Powers said. “But we showed that metabolic supply can, in fact, keep up with metabolic demand. The colony beat the bottleneck problem. Its increasing size is actually an advantage, allowing it to create a faster flow of nutrients.”
The National Science Foundation funded the work.
Wendy Lawton | EurekAlert!
A new molecular player involved in T cell activation
07.12.2018 | Tokyo Institute of Technology
News About a Plant Hormone
07.12.2018 | Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg
What if a sensor sensing a thing could be part of the thing itself? Rice University engineers believe they have a two-dimensional solution to do just that.
Rice engineers led by materials scientists Pulickel Ajayan and Jun Lou have developed a method to make atom-flat sensors that seamlessly integrate with devices...
Scientists at the University of Stuttgart and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) succeed in important further development on the way to quantum Computers.
Quantum computers one day should be able to solve certain computing problems much faster than a classical computer. One of the most promising approaches is...
New Project SNAPSTER: Novel luminescent materials by encapsulating phosphorescent metal clusters with organic liquid crystals
Nowadays energy conversion in lighting and optoelectronic devices requires the use of rare earth oxides.
Scientists have discovered the first synthetic material that becomes thicker - at the molecular level - as it is stretched.
Researchers led by Dr Devesh Mistry from the University of Leeds discovered a new non-porous material that has unique and inherent "auxetic" stretching...
Scientists from the Theory Department of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science (CFEL) in Hamburg have shown through theoretical calculations and computer simulations that the force between electrons and lattice distortions in an atomically thin two-dimensional superconductor can be controlled with virtual photons. This could aid the development of new superconductors for energy-saving devices and many other technical applications.
The vacuum is not empty. It may sound like magic to laypeople but it has occupied physicists since the birth of quantum mechanics.
06.12.2018 | Event News
03.12.2018 | Event News
28.11.2018 | Event News
07.12.2018 | Life Sciences
07.12.2018 | Materials Sciences
07.12.2018 | Physics and Astronomy