Fungus-Like Protists: Characteristics, Types & Examples

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  • 0:01 How Protists Fit In
  • 0:36 What Are Protists?
  • 2:02 Slime Molds
  • 3:27 Water Molds
  • 4:38 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Angela Hartsock

Angela has taught college Microbiology and has a doctoral degree in Microbiology.

In this lesson, learn more about the invisible world of microscopic organisms through a discussion of our distant relatives: the fungus-like protists, slime molds, and water molds. When you are through, take the brief quiz to test your understanding.

How Protists Fit In

Have you ever felt like you just don't fit in? In biology, we like to put life forms into nice, neat categories and give them long scientific names that nobody can pronounce. But sometimes, life forms defy being categorized. They just don't fit in anywhere! This lesson is a tribute to a group of misfits called the fungus-like protists. You see, they aren't like all the other protists, and they exhibit some of the same traits as fungi, but not all of them - hence the clunky name. So now, allow me to properly introduce you.

What Are Protists?

Protists are eukaryotic microorganisms that are typically single-celled. They are related to plants and animals, but they don't form complex tissues and structures like those we associate with plants and animals. The whole category is somewhat artificial and out-dated since genetic sequencing shows that there is no real protist group. Instead, many are distantly related, meaning they are spread out throughout the domain Eukarya on the tree of life. Because we still like to group organisms together based on their lifestyle, calling organisms protists still comes in handy, however. The protists typically live in water or moist soil as single cells that must fend for themselves to find nutrition.

There are three main groups within the protists that are defined by how they acquire their nutrition: animal-like protists, plant-like protists, and fungus-like protists. Animal-like protists are known as protozoa, and they engulf and digest their food. Plant-like protists obtain their energy through photosynthesis; they are more commonly called algae. Finally, the fungus-like protists get their energy and nutrition like a fungus does, by releasing a digestive enzyme into the environment to break down large organic molecules into pieces small enough to absorb. There are two branches within the fungus-like protists that we will discuss here.

Type: Slime Molds

Once upon a time, scientists thought slime molds were in fact fungi, explaining the mold part of their name. Now we know they are actually only distantly related to fungi. But, at first glance, the life cycle of these eukaryotic microorganisms appears similar to that of fungi. When their environmental conditions become unfavorable for growth, they begin making spores. The spores can be dispersed to new environments where, if conditions are favorable for growth, the spores transform into cells and begin their life cycle anew.

So why the ''slime'' part of the name? Well, these protists typically live as single cells, but under certain conditions, the individual cells can all swarm together into what can only really be called a slime. Some species swarm together, and all the individual cells fuse into a single giant cell. Other species swarm together, but the cells themselves stay separate.

So within the fungus-like protists, the slime molds are characterized by the ability of single cells to swarm together into groups and the ability to form spores during environmental stress. Physarum polycephalum is an example of a slime mold. This is one of the slime molds where thousands of single cells can fuse together into one giant cell with thousands of nuclei!

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