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Helpful Protists: Types & Activities

Helpful Protists: Types & Activities
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  • 0:00 Definition of Protists
  • 0:59 Protists That Help Humankind
  • 2:11 Protists Helping…
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Terry Dunn

Terry has a master's degree in environmental communications and has taught in a variety of settings.

A few disease-causing protists have given the majority of protists a bad reputation. There are many ways protists are beneficial to people, animals and the environment. Here, you will learn what protists are and how they can be beneficial.

Definition of Protists

Have you ever noticed that the students who misbehave in class often get a lot more attention than the ones who are quietly doing their work? Well, the same goes for protists. The ones that cause harm to humans by giving us malaria and the African sleeping disease giardiasis seem to get all the attention, while the beneficial ones are overlooked and taken for granted.

Protists are eukaryotic microorganisms that comprise Protista, a kingdom that contains organisms that don't belong to any other classification. They're not animals, plants or fungi. Each protist has a nucleus and can be single-celled or multi-celled, and protists often have figures that resemble blobs of various shapes. Unlike plants, animals and fungi, they don't have a variety of tissues and certainly don't have organs, like hearts or spleens. Most are microscopic, but some, like seaweed, can get pretty big.

Protists That Help Humankind

Believe it or not, you've probably eaten protists at some point and thought they were pretty tasty. For example, carrageenan is a polysaccharide (carbohydrate made up of sugar molecules) that comes from red algae, a protist, and is used to thicken ice cream, yogurt and soy milk. The red algae itself is high in vitamins and minerals, but carrageenan doesn't have much nutritional value.

A less savory task for protists is their use in wastewater treatment. Certain protists consume bacteria and organic matter in wastewater, leaving clean, usable water in their wake. Protists may also control bacteria in human intestines and are given some credit for combating cholera. Cholera is a disease caused by a bacteria that enters human digestive tracts from infected water or food. And have you heard of probiotics? Protists are part of that mix.

Another way protists clean things up is with the use of diatomaceous earth. Diatomaceous earth comes from dead diatoms, which are tiny protists with silica shells. The shells make the mixture rough, making diatomaceous earth useful in cleaning products and water filters.

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