Amoeba

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ameba

ameba or amoeba (both: əmēˈbə), common name for certain one-celled organisms belonging to the phylum Sarcodina of the kingdom Protista. Amebas were previously classified as members of the animal kingdom. Most amebas are very small (from 5 to 20 microns in diameter) and contain a single nucleus. A. proteus averages 0.25 mm in length. Members of the genus Pelomyxa, however, may be well over a millimeter (up to 8 mm) in diameter and may contain hundreds of nuclei. The giant ameba Gromia sphaerica, found on the ocean floor, may reach 1.5 in. (40 mm) in diameter.

Amebas constantly change the shape of their bodies as a result of the phenomenon known as ameboid movement, involving the formation of temporary extensions (pseudopodia, or false feet) of the body. Pseudopodia, used in locomotion and feeding, may be rounded at the tip (lobopodia), pointed (filopodia), branched and fused together (rhizopodia), or somewhat rigid and pointed (axopodia).

Although simple in form, amebas are very successful organisms and are found abundantly in a variety of habitats all over the world. Amebas live in freshwater, the oceans, and in the upper layers of the soil, and many have adapted to a parasitic life on the body surface of aquatic animals or in the internal organs of both aquatic and terrestrial animals. Few animals escape invasion by some type of ameba. Some are harmless, but others are pathogenic and cause serious diseases; e.g., Entamoeba histolytica causes amebic dysentery, which is fatal if untreated, and Naegleria fowleri causes primary amebic meningoencephalitis, which is rare but usually fatal unless treated promptly. The many genera of amebas were given their common name because of their resemblance to the genus Amoeba (order Amoebida), which includes several large, common species of which the freshwater Amoeba proteus is the most familiar.

The term ameba is sometimes also used to refer to other unicellular protists (e.g., slime molds) that have ameboid features such as pseudopodia. Other ameboid protozoans of the phylum Sarcodina include the marine radiolarians, which form silicate skeletons; their freshwater counterparts, the heliozoans; and the shell-bearing foraminiferans.

Digestion and Respiration

In a process known as phagocytosis, amebas engulf their prey, or particles of appropriate size, with their pseudopodia, forming food vacuoles. Digestive enzymes, manufactured and secreted by the organism, are then poured into these vacuoles, and the particles are digested. Useful compounds are subsequently absorbed into the ameba's body. Useless residues remain in the vacuoles and are ultimately expelled (egested) as the vacuole comes in contact with the membrane at the body surface. Amebas can distinguish food (e.g., algae, diatoms, bacteria, and other protozoans) from other material and use different tactics in approaching different food. Freshwater amebas take up water constantly through the process of osmosis, and water content is regulated with a pulsating contractile vacuole. Marine amebas lack a contractile vacuole. Respiration is by diffusion of gases through the cell membrane.

Reproduction

Under favorable conditions amebas divide by binary fission (splitting) to produce two daughter amebas, the nucleus dividing by mitosis. When an ameba is divided artificially, the portion containing the nucleus forms a new cell membrane and continues as a whole animal, while the other portion lives only as long as its present food supply lasts, ultimately dying, since it cannot ingest food or reproduce. If conditions are unfavorable, e.g., in the absence of food and water, amebas secrete a firm protective covering and encyst until conditions are again favorable to active division.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Amoeba

 

the order of the simplest organized protozoa of the class Sarcodina. Most live in fresh waters, a few in the soil; there are parasitic forms. They are usually of microscopic dimensions up to 50 μm, but there are also “giants” such as Pelomyxa, which grows to 2–3 mm. Amoebas have no constant body shape; their cytoplasmic body forms extrusions or pseudopodia which aid in motion and food gathering. They feed on bacteria, minute algae, and protozoa. The amoeba engulfs the food particle and from its cytoplasm the amoeba secretes digestive juices and forms a food vacuole within which the food is dissolved and is incorporated into the cytoplasm. The excretion of water (osmoregulation) and metabolic products occurs through the contractory vacuoles, which gradually accumulate waste matter and discharge it at the surface.

Amoebas ordinarily have one nucleus, but Pelomyxa is multinucleate. The majority of amoebas multiply asexually, dividing in two. The division of the body is preceded by mitosis in the nucleus. A sexual process is known only in very rare cases.

Upon subjection to unfavorable conditions—for instance, insufficient food, cold, or drying of the water body—the amoeba’s body becomes round and the surface of its cytoplasm becomes a dense protective layer; a cyst forms that is resistant to unfavorable effects of the dormant stage. Freshwater amoebas can serve as a water pollution index. Parasitic amoebas live in the intestines of various animals and man. Among these the most harmful is the dysentery amoeba (Entamoeba histolytica), which produces a severe form of amoebic dysentery in man. Infection occurs via cysts, which remain viable outside the human body.

REFERENCES

Dogel’, V. A., Iu. I. Polianskii, and E. M. Kheisin. Obshchaia protozoologiia. Moscow-Leningrad, 1962.
Seravin, L. N. Dvigatel’nye sistemy prosteishikh. Leningrad, 1967.

A. A. STRELKOV

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Amoeba

[ə′mē·bə]
(invertebrate zoology)
A genus of naked, rhizopod protozoans in the order Amoebida characterized by a thin pellicle and thick, irregular pseudopodia.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

amoeba

(US), ameba
any protozoan of the phylum Rhizopoda, esp any of the genus Amoeba, able to change shape because of the movements of cell processes (pseudopodia). They live in fresh water or soil or as parasites in man and animals
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005

Amoeba

(operating system)
A distributed operating system developed by Andrew S. Tanenbaum and others of Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam. Amoeba is only available under licence from the VUA, but is free of charge and includes all source, binaries and documentation.

http://am.cs.vu.nl/.

Amoeba

(computer, abuse)
A derogatory term for Commodore's Amiga personal computer.
This article is provided by FOLDOC - Free Online Dictionary of Computing (foldoc.org)