What Are the Benefits of Protists?

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Danielle Haak

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

Protists include a variety of often single-celled organisms that contribute to both diseases and the production of life-giving parts of ecosystems. Explore the benefits of protists in photosynthesis, decomposition, and their place in the global food web. Updated: 12/14/2021

Introduction to Bacteria & Protists

To understand the benefits of protists, we should first talk about what they are! Protists are a diverse set of usually single-celled organisms that include algae, diatoms, dinoflagellates, amoebae, euglena, and slime molds. Protists come in different shapes and sizes, but they all have a few things in common.

They have eukaryotic cells, which means each cell has a defined nucleus found within a membrane. Some protists are made up of only a single cell, while others have many cells. Some are capable of making their own food, making them autotrophs, while others have to eat other organisms, making them heterotrophs. Most, if not all, protists live in aquatic or damp environments, but they can be found in both fresh and salt water bodies. Though protists are fundamentally different from plants, animals, and fungi, they may be classified as 'plant-like,' 'animal-like,' or 'fungi-like' based on their attributes.

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Not all protists are harmless. In fact, protists are responsible for malaria, giardia, and other diseases in humans. But let's not write them all off just yet. Protists also provide many benefits to both humans and other organisms.

For example, plant-like protists produce almost half of the oxygen found on our planet through the process of photosynthesis. That's pretty impressive for organisms that are often microscopic in size!

Other types of protists act as decomposers. This means they break down dead organic material into components that can be used by other organisms. This process is called nutrient recycling, and we would be in trouble if we didn't have decomposers hard at work.

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