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Scientists Find 'Mysterious' Tiny Predator

October 15, 2005|From Reuters

A one-celled creature found on a sandy beach might be in the process of kidnapping and incorporating a tinier plant to use as a living energy source, Japanese researchers reported Thursday.

They said the newly discovered organism seemed to be in the process of endosymbiosis, in which one creature incorporates another to create a new life form.

Scientists believe this is how many plants and animals evolved. The new creature, which researchers have dubbed hatena (for "mysterious"), is a flagellate -- a small organism with a tail that it uses to propel itself.

Writing in the current issue of the journal Science, Noriko Okamoto and Isao Inouye of the University of Tsukuba said these creatures could resemble plants or animals, but during one phase of their lives, they resemble predators.

At another stage, hatena carry green, photosynthesizing algae inside.

They divide during that phase, giving rise to two daughter cells -- one green and one colorless.

The colorless daughter develops a feeding tool and eventually engulfs another green alga.

The green cell, called the symbiont, belongs to a genus of algae called Nephroselmis.

It has a flagellum too, but loses it when it is engulfed, along with its outside structure, the exoskeleton.

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