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J Biomech. 2007;40(1):137-48. Epub 2006 Jan 30.

Analysis of the flow field induced by the sessile peritrichous ciliate Opercularia asymmetrica.

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  • 1Technische Universit√§t M√ľnchen, Weihenstephaner Steig 23, D-85350 Freising, Germany.


The feeding mechanism of the sessile protozoon Opercularia asymmetrica (Oligohymenophorea, Peritrichia) relies on the cilia beat generating a flow field that convectively transports suspended particles and dissolved substances to the oral cavity of the organism. By use of optical micro-flow measurement and theoretical methods the flow environment of two neighbouring peritrichous ciliate cells is studied. Both, yeast cells (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) and artificial flow tracers are used for the visualisation of the flow field. Artificial tracers are rejected by the protozoa and deviate from the fluid path lines, while yeast cells follow the flow almost perfectly. This is shown through a dimensional analysis of the involved hydrodynamic forces on the tracers. The measured flow field exhibits maximum velocities of 25 microm/s at around 20 microm distance ahead of an individual ciliate. The flow field extends 200 microm from the location of the ciliate. A nicking motion of the protozoon is observed and found not to obey any periodic law. Multiples of protozoa exhibit most commonly an alternating cilia beat regime generating a non-stationary flow field. It can be shown through theoretical methods that fluid exchange is enhanced in this alternating regime compared to a flow field generated by a single ciliate. Fluid exchange depends on the distance of the ciliates from each other and on the alteration frequency of the cilia beat. The comparison of an analytical Stokes' flow solution with the observed fluid flow serves to determine the force required to maintain the flow field against viscous dissipation. The force magnitude is in the order of magnitude of 10-100 pN.

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