I thought today’s Friday Science entry would be about my favorite amoebae and yesterday’s seminar speaker. My boss was the seminar host for yesterday and she invited Dr. Adam Kuspa to speak about his current research with Dictyostelium (Dicty), the same organism we work with. Dicty are a soil amoeba that eats things like bacteria and yeast. They crawl around in the ground individually hunting for food and dividing until they run out of food. Then all the dicty cells in that area migrate together to form a slug (but not the kind of slug that leave the slime trails on your side walk). We are talking about 50,000 cells coming together and moving through the soil until they find a good spot to sort of plant themselves, usually some place kind of sunny. Then they form a stalk with a fruiting body on the end. The fruiting body is full of spores and when the food source returns or conditions are good, the spores can germinate back into single dicty cells. Pretty cool.

There are certain dicty cells in the population called S cells. When the dicty cells come together to form the slug, the S cells are the ones that kind of protect the slug. They act like an immune system eating up all the bad things that the slug encounters as it travels like pathogens and toxins. The S cells get sloughed off and left behind as they fill up with bad stuff. Then as the slug forms the stalk and the fruiting body, all the cells that make up the stalk formation die. Adam Kuspa’s lab studies the hows and whys of how this happens.

I find the topic totally fascinating particularly from an evolutionary stand point. Basically, this is how we started. At what point did the cells decide that it would be better to stick together then roam around singly?

Also, I’d really like to see dicty in the wild. Stalks and fruiting bodies are clearly visible on plates. I want to see them in their natural habitat.