Examples of Multicellular Protists

Examples of Multicellular Protists
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  • 0:02 What Are Protists?
  • 0:55 Multicellular…
  • 3:31 Multicellular…
  • 4:49 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Danielle Haak

Danielle has a PhD in Natural Resource Sciences and a MSc in Biological Sciences

Protists are a group of organisms that share characteristics with plants, animals, and fungi, yet they are different enough to earn the status as a separate type of organism. Read this lesson to learn about the rare group of multicellular protists.

What Are Protists?

Protists are a pretty cool group of organisms that share characteristics with animals, plants, and fungi, but are still different enough to warrant their own classification. All protists have eukaryotic cells, meaning cells that have a defined nucleus enclosed in some type of membrane. Protists usually live in aquatic environments, either salt or fresh water. Most of them are unicellular, meaning they only have a single cell and are microscopic in size. However, there are a few types of protists that are multicellular, meaning they have more than one cell. Multicellular organisms are also different from unicellular organisms that link up in colonies (protists sometimes do this). Because of many similarities with a variety of organisms, protists are often categorized as plant-like, animal-like, or fungi-like protists.

Multicellular Plant-Like Protists

One of larger groups of plant-like protists you may be familiar with is algae. Algae is the small, plant matter found living in both freshwater and marine environments. It can be free-floating as small particles, or can grow on the surface of rocks or other organisms. Many algae species are unicellular, but there are some examples of multicellular algae.

Green algae are in the subgroup Chlorophyta, and are named after their primary pigment called chlorophyll. This is the pigment used in photosynthesis, the process green algae uses to form their own food using energy from the sun. When an organism can make its own food like this, it is called autotrophic. Most species of green algae are found in freshwater, though a few are also found in marine environments.

One type of multicellular green algae is the genus Volvox. This group is commonly used in laboratory experiments and scientific research. In these images, you can see multiple cells contained within an outer membrane. The small structures around the perimeter of the organism are the small structures Volvox uses to move, called flagella. Take a look at this image on screen. It's another example of Volvox under a microscope. With this example, you can just see the tiny structures around the perimeter, called flagella, that help the organism move.

Volvox as seen under a microscope.


Brown algae are in the subgroup Phaeophyta. These species are mostly found in marine environments (saltwater), and they use the pigment fucoxanthin in photosynthesis. Fucoxanthin is the pigment that gives them their brown color. Brown algae includes a variety of seaweeds and kelps, all of which are multicellular, but still classified as plant-like protists.

Sargassum natans is one species of brown algae found in marine environments. Upon first glance, it might look like a plant, but it's not. It's still a plant-like protist. This species uses small, spherical structures to stay afloat. None of the plant is rooted in the substrate. Instead, it is entirely free-floating.

Red algae are another group of plant-like protists with multicellular species. Red algae are in the subgroup Rhodophyta, and like the brown algae, most species are found in marine environments. They usually grow attached to rocks or other organisms, and use the pigment phycobilin for photosynthesis. Phycobilin gives the algae their red color.

On screen is a member of the genus Callophyllis. It grows on top of other structures in marine environments.

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