Vampyrella

Ever heard of them?

I hadn’t.

Vampyrella

Vampyrella

Microscopic vampire amoebas are swarming everywhere

Single-celled bloodsuckers called vampyrellids creep through the soil beneath your feet

Within a few metres of you, almost certainly, a vampire is feeding. It grabs its victim and punctures its skin, then drains its bodily fluids. The process takes just minutes. Afterwards the withered husk of the luckless prey is discarded, and the vampire settles down to digest its meal – and maybe make some new vampires.

But this is no Transylvanian immigrant, nor even a perpetual teenager that thinks lurking outside a girl’s bedroom is acceptable behaviour. The vampires here are single-celled organisms called vampyrellids that prey on all manner of other single-celled organisms – and even on bigger animals such as worms. They are voracious and ancient, and according to two recent studies, they are everywhere.

“Vampire amoebas” were first described in 1865 by the Russian biologist Leon Semenowitj Cienkowski, one of the founders of microbiology. He discovered bright red single-celled creatures, rather like amoebas, which attacked algae by perforating their cell walls and extracting their contents. Evidently conscious of the similarity to vampire folklore, Cienkowski called the microbes Vampyrella.

Several more species followed, which are collectively known as vampyrellids. Nowadays the vampyrellids are thought to belong to an enormously diverse group of single-celled organisms called Rhizaria.

Their macabre feeding style has fascinated microbiologists for 150 years. A 1926 study describes how Vampyrella lateritia “spreads partly around the doomed cell” and “within a minute or so the transverse walls of the attacked cell begin to bend gradually inward”. When they finally buckle, the vampire amoeba “suddenly swells” due to “the injection of algal cell contents into the animal through an oval opening”.

Source: BBCNews Read more

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