Protist.swf / protista.swf

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Protists (pronounced /ˈproʊtɨst/) are a diverse group of eukaryotic microorganisms. Historically, protists were treated as the kingdom Protista, which includes mostly unicellular organisms that do not fit into the other kingdoms, but this group is contested in modern taxonomy. Instead, it is "better regarded as a loose grouping of 30 or 40 disparate phyla with diverse combinations of trophic modes, mechanisms of motility, cell coverings and life cycles.

The protists do not have much in common besides a relatively simple organization—either they are unicellular, or they are multicellular without specialized tissues. This simple cellular organization distinguishes the protists from other eukaryotes, such as fungi, animals and plants.

The term protista was first used by Ernst Haeckel in 1866. Protists were traditionally subdivided into several groups based on similarities to the "higher" kingdoms: the one-celled "animal-like" protozoa, the "plant-like" protophyta (mostly "one-celled" algae), and the "fungus-like" slime molds and water molds. These traditional subdivisions, largely based on superficial commonalities, have been replaced by classifications based on phylogenetics (evolutionary relatedness among organisms). However, the older terms are still used as informal names to describe the morphology and ecology of various protists.

Protists live in almost any environment that contains liquid water. Many protists, such as the algae, are photosynthetic and are vital primary producers in ecosystems, particularly in the ocean as part of the plankton. Other protists, such as the Kinetoplastids and Apicomplexa, are responsible for a range of serious human diseases, such as malaria and sleeping sickness.

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