Book Review

Sigrid März

Klaus Hausmann & Renate Radek (eds.):
Cilia and Flagella, Ciliates and Flagellates: Ultrastructure and Cell Biology, Function and Systematics, Symbiosis and Biodiversity.

Hardcover: 200 Pages
Publisher: Schweizerbart Sche Vlgsb. (2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 3510652878
ISBN-13: 978-3510652877
€40 (Hardcover).

It’s All About Movement

Protists, the unicellular dinosaurs of evolution, have little in common apart from their hair-like organelles. A dozen renowned experts summarise the diverse biological aspects of these single-celled, flagellated and ciliated creatures.

Didinium eating Paramecium. The Didinium cell is beginning to divide. Photo: Michael Plociniak

What happens when an international bunch of twelve guys and one lady meet in the middle of nowhere, in Lüchow (Lower Saxony, Germany)? They organise the International Wendlandian Symposium (IWS) and discuss the past, present and future of ... Persian carpets.

Hold on! Persian carpets? Of course not. This just is your reviewer’s association when it comes to ciliates and other tiny ‘hairy’ creatures. But it’s definitely true that the symposium’s participants, all of them long-standing protistology experts, decided to compile their profound knowledge, experiences and passion for these small organisms into one book. And because they are serious scientists the book was given the title Cilia and Flagella – Ciliates and Flagellates.

Discussing Persian carpets

A first glance at the book’s 299 pages might arouse doubt that they really are that serious. The first pages offer several private photos of the symposium, supplemented with more or less antique pictures of some of the authors as PhD students. And one of the last chapters presents such rib-tickling material as “the evolution of scientific humor [...]”. Marvelous.

But of course there is also a lot of science in that hard cover book, which was published by the retired German protozoology professor Klaus Hausmann and his former mentee and zoologist Renate Radek (both from Berlin, Germany) together with 15 protistology colleagues in 2014. Thus, Hausmann and Radek claim in the preface that, “[...] the book summarises the discoveries a dozen specialists from various countries have made [about] cilia/flagella and ciliates/flagellates during the last 50 years.”

Cilia and flagella are lash-like appendages on (mainly) eukaryotic cells which enable their ‘owners’ (ciliates and flagellates) to move and sense. They are both feet and eyes. Together with other, non-moving single- or few-celled organisms the little swimmers form a very heterogeneous group in terms of natural habitat, life cycle and motility. Scientists like Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919) tried to tidy up that taxonomic chaos in the late 19th century and introduced the taxon “protista” as the kingdom of primitive forms. Today it is known that this taxonomy was wrong in referring to natural relationships since higher organised beings evolved from protists. But the term is still used frequently (scientists are very conservative, you know).

Always following the (9 x 2 + 2) rule

Cilia usually are shorter than eukaryotic flagella and can be found in higher numbers on a single cell. But when it comes to micro-structural organisation they follow the same 9 x 2 + 2 rule, “Nine peripheral double microtubules [surround] two individual central microtubules”, to form these phenotypically diverse locomotive structures, Hausmann and Radek point out in the introductory chapter. Focussing on cilia- or flagella-equipped protists the two editors present an overview of the structure and functionality of these fringes.

The following six chapters, subdivided into 13 sections overall, feature the research results of Hausmann, Radek and co-authors, and also reflect known facts and open questions to provide a complete picture of their own research topic: Ultrastructure, cell biology, motility, taxonomy/systematics, symbiosis and biodiversity.

Here and there they grace their texts with a bit of personal input, which attracts the reader and makes him feel like a part of the big protistology family. Helmut Plattner, from the University of Konstanz, even sings “A song of praise for Paramecium [...]” using this protist successfully as a model for vesicle trafficking. You have to admit that the best-known ciliate Paramecium looks like a tiny Persian carpet sometimes.

A song of praise for Paramecium

Finally, German biodiversity professor Jens Boenigk asks, “Five decades of research in Protistology – what have we learned?” And he tries to give an answer, conceptually, historically and methodically. From first microscopic approaches by the Dutch tradesman and scientific pioneer Antoni van Leeuwenhoek in the late 19th century, via PCR, DNA sequencing and up-to-date scientific research, to global warming followed by the enhanced spreading of human-harming parasites.

Although a scientific publication on a very specific topic this book has the potential to entertain its reader. Noteworthy are the numerous high-quality pictures, including light- and electron microscopy images, computer reconstructions and schematic drawings. Of course you could read every single original paper if you are interested in protists. But it wouldn’t be half the fun. This summary will give you a good overview of historical and contemporary protist research. And if you are looking for the molecular details of tiny ciliated or flagellated organisms, you can find that here as well.

Letzte Änderungen: 08.02.2016