Many species of the genus Vorticella are common ciliates living in many types of aquatic habitats. Their distinctive, contractile stalk anchors the unicellular body to a substrate. Contraction of the cell is calcium‐driven and independent of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), relying on the presence of calcium‐binding proteins. A coupled mechanochemical model accounts for the coiling of an elastic stalk and the binding of calcium to the calcium‐binding proteins. Stalk elongation is driven by elastic energy stored in the coiled stalk and the rate of elongation is controlled by calcium dissociation from calcium‐binding proteins and its re‐sequestration into internal stores. Recently, the taxonomic status of the subclass Peritichia has changed radically based on molecular studies. The former order Mobilida was removed from the subclass and elevated to the level of a separate subclass. Phylogenetic studies using small subunit ribosomal ribonucleic acid (ssu rRNA) and internal transcribed spacer (ITS) sequences place the Peritrichia closer to the subclass Hymenostomatia and the Mobilia closer to the subclass Peniculia.

Key Concepts:

  • Contractility in Vorticella relies on a calcium‐driven, ATP‐independent system that depends on calcium‐binding proteins.

  • Vorticella can be used as a bio‐indicator for the evaluation of polluted waterways.

  • Vorticella and similar filter‐feeding ciliates are used to clarify sewage in waste treatment plants.

  • Vorticella is a useful organism for the study of exocytosis by examining production and release of granules that form the extracellular matrix of the stalk and the adhesive pad.

  • Vorticella stalk contraction and relaxation is dependent of the presence or absence of calcium ions, this property can be exploited in a microelectromechanical system (MEMS) to perform linear work generated by spasmonemal contraction and controlled by calcium levels.

  • Chemical analysis of the sticky material that anchors the stalk of Vorticella firmly to its substrate could result in the identification of a new type of adhesive material that sets in water.

Keywords: ciliate; reproduction; centrin; centrin‐binding protein; ultrastructure; contraction; bioactuator

Figure 1.

(a) Living Vorticella; (b) diagrammatic oral view of oral complex; (c) stalk of Carchesium, a relative of Vorticella; (d–g) development of the stalk during metamorphosis in Vorticella. a, outer band of peristomial cilia (haplokinety); b and c, inner band of peristomial cilia (polykinety); a1–c1, continuations of peristomial ciliary bands into infundibulum; cc, stalk spasmoneme; cp, cytopharynx of microtubules that guides food vacuoles into the cytoplasm; cv, contractile vacuole for expulsion of excess water; cy, entrance into cytostome; fv, food vacuole; gr, mitochondrion associated with myoneme fibres in stalk spasmoneme; h, helical arrangement of bâtonnets in stalk wall; L, longitudinally oriented somatic myoneme; M, macronucleus; m, micronucleus; o, entrance into infundibulum; ob, obliquely oriented somatic myonemes; pf, infundibulum; sc, scopula; sp, myoneme fibres of the stalk spasmoneme. (From Mackinnon and Hawes, ).

Figure 2.

Reconstruction illustrating the arrangement of pellicular elements for Vorticella convallaria: as, alveolar sac; cmf, coiled microfibril; dfa, dense fibre aggregates; edf, electron‐dense ridge fibre; FN1, outer fibrous network; FN2, middle fibrous network; FN3, inner fibrous network; iam, inner alveolar membrane; oam, outer alveolar membrane; p, pore; pm, plasma membrane; pmf, pore microfilaments; r, ridges. Areas indicated are: nonextracted (a), both nonextracted and Triton X‐100 extracted in calcium (b), and Triton X‐100‐extracted in EDTA with no calcium (c). From Wibel et al., .

Figure 3.

Scanning electron micrograph of the semipermanent junction between the stalk and scopular region of Vorticella convallaria. Cell was extracted with Triton X‐100. The (ST) has detached from the scopular lip–scopular ciliary junction revealing the (SL) and the (SC). The (SP) is also visible. Magnification ×30 400. From Wibel et al., .



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Further Reading

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Buhse, Howard E, McCutcheon, Suzanne M, Clamp, John C, and Sun, Ping(May 2011) Vorticella. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. http://www.els.net [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0001975.pub2]