Do Protists Have a Nucleus?

Instructor: Sarah Phenix
In this lesson we will not only explore whether protists have a nucleus, but will also delve into the associated notions of what a protist is and what unifies this group of organisms and sets them apart from other kingdoms of organisms.

The Big Question

The simple answer to this question is yes, all protists do have a nucleus, but that's not the whole answer to this story (and what a boring story this would be if it were!). The next question you're probably asking yourself is why protists have a nucleus. Well, the answer to this is going to seem pretty vague, but we'll discuss this vagueness in a moment. Protists have a nucleus because the taxonomic kingdom Protista refers to only those single-celled microorganisms who can neither be classified as belonging to the plant, animal, nor fungi kingdoms, yet they do share one important quality with those kingdoms: they are all eukaryotes.


Okay, so I'm sure it's pretty clear from that vague description that protists are a problematic group of organisms for biologists. Protists are sort of a 'what's-it' group because they resist our innate need to categorize things. This resistance comes from the fact that, in studying them, we've discovered that protists are actually a polyphyletic group. This means that the organisms within this group don't share all of the same qualities with one another and, what's more, different groups within the protist kingdom actually possess qualities that overlap with other kingdoms.

In other words, some protists are:

  • more 'plant-like' (such as unicellular algae)
  • more 'fungus-like' (such as slime molds)
  • more 'animal-like' (such as unicellular protists, referred to as protozoans, that hunt and consume other protists and bacteria)
  • or heterotrophic (a combination of 'animal-like' hunting behaviors and being capable of photosynthesis)

However, what unites the kingdom Protista is that, while they can't be classified as plant, animal, or fungus (because they are unicellular), protists, like those kingdoms, are eukaryotes.

Examples of Types of Protists
Examples of Types of Protists

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