Ingestion: Definition & Process

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  • 0:00 What Is Ingestion?
  • 0:35 Types of Ingestion
  • 1:12 Cellular
  • 2:33 Animals
  • 4:12 Abnormal Ingestion
  • 4:40 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sarah Phenix
In this lesson, we're going to explore what ingestion means, as well as the various forms that organisms use to consume substances into their bodies or cells. When you are through, test your knowledge with a quiz.

What Is Ingestion?

Ingestion may seem like a pretty boring topic as you do it every time you eat breakfast or drink juice or even when you pop a breath mint in your mouth, but did you know that ingestion doesn't just refer to eating (although it's most frequently used in that sense)?. Ingestion is really just the act of consuming any substance, whether that be healthy fluids, foods, or medications or unhealthy poisons, pathogenic bacteria, or even non-nutritive indigestible items. Put very simply, ingestion merely refers to the act of taking any substance into the digestive system.

Types of Ingestion

While ingestion refers to the taking in of a substance, there are a multitude of mechanisms by which various organisms do this. Everything from the tiny cells of your body, single-celled organisms, such as amoebas and paramecium, bacteria, and yeasts to animals and humans ingest nutritive substances. Now, of course, not all of these organisms have a mouth nor do they all consume the same types of substances, so each has evolved its own method to complete this very important task. So, how do these various methods differ? Well, let's take a moment to explore the mysterious world of ingestion.


Cells, such as the cells of your body as well as single-celled organisms and simple multi-celled organisms, are all capable of ingesting substances in a manner called endocytosis. Now, they certainly don't have any structure similar to what you or I would think of as a mouth, so how do they do this? Well, they use methods called pinocytosis (to ingest fluids), phagocytosis (to ingest solids), or some are even capable of receptor-mediated endocytosis, which requires the activation of receptor sites for ingestion.

In pinocytosis, extracellular (meaning outside of the cell) fluids are ingested by the cellular membrane enveloping around the fluid and then pinching off to form an intercellular vacuole. This vacuole then transports the substance within the cells to the appropriate location for digestion. In phagocytosis, the process is very similar except that this process specifically elects for solid particles rather than fluid. The third method, called receptor-mediated endocytosis, is the most 'picky eater' of all three, in that, it only consumes substances that specifically trigger unique protein receptors located on the cell's membrane surface. And, because it is so picky, it is widely utilized by cells to select things like specific hormones, insulin, and cholesterol absorption.


It's no secret that the animal kingdom is a veritable 'zoo' of organisms that are all uniquely shaped and specialized to ingest certain food products.

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