Euglenozoans: Kinetoplastids & Euglenids

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  • 0:00 Euglenozoans
  • 1:25 Euglenids
  • 2:41 Kinetoplastids
  • 3:47 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

The protists are a very diverse collection of microorganisms. In this lesson, get to know a major group of protists called the euglenozoans, and discover what makes them unique from other microorganisms.


It's a plant! It's an animal! It's kind of, sort of both but also neither. Man, there's some weird stuff on this planet.

In the major group of mostly unicellular microoganisms that cannot be classified as plants, animals or fungi, called the protists, there is one collection of creatures that is particularly known for its taxonomic ambiguity. Basically, it doesn't know what it is. This group is the euglenozoa, a diverse assortment of unicellular microorganisms characterized by specific flagella. Flagella, by the way, are thin fibers used like a tail for locomotion. It's how the cell gets around.

Euglenozoa flagella have a unique structure, a rod inside the fiber; that's officially what characterizes members of the phylum euglenozoa. But beyond that, these microorganisms share a few other unusual traits, namely the fact that many are both autotrophic, meaning that they create their own food from sunlight, and heterotrophic, which means they consume other organic material for food.

Most organisms are either heterotrophic or autotrophic. Plants rely on photosynthesis; we rely on cheeseburgers, but not the euglenozoans. This is why it took scientists so long if they were plants or fungi or what. They may not know exactly what they are, but we know that they sure are cool.


Within the euglenozoans, there are two major groups. First, are the euglenids, green microorganisms that are both heterotrophic and autotrophic. These are the distinguishing characteristics of euglenids. They mostly rely on photosynthesis, processing the sunlight for energy the way that plants do but also can capture and eat other microorganisms. Like I said, there aren't many things that can do both.

Euglenids also generally have a single red eyespot that is photosensitive, meaning that it is sensitive to light. It's sort of like a very primitive eye which is pretty cool. The euglenids can't actually see, not the way that we can, but it can see a shadow passing by, which is useful both for catching prey and avoiding danger.

So, as for the big question here, why is it green? (This is actually important.) Let me ask you this: Why are plants green? Because of chloroplasts, organelles within a cell that conduct photosynthesis. This is how things like plants and euglenids turn sunlight into food. The presence of these organelles is the defining trait that characterize euglenids, although the green color also comes from another source as well; euglenids eat green algae.

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