The Flagella and Cilia

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(a) Eukaryotic flagella and cilia are composed of a 9+2 array of microtubules, as seen in this transmission electron micrograph cross-section. (b) The sliding of these microtubules relative to each other causes a flagellum to bend. (c) An illustration of Trichomonas vaginalis, a flagellated protozoan parasite that causes vaginitis. (d) Many protozoans, like this Paramecium, have numerous cilia that aid in locomotion as well as in feeding. Note the mouth opening shown here. (credit d: modification of work by University of Vermont/National Institutes of Health)

OpenStax Microbiology

Some eukaryotic cells use flagella for locomotion; however, eukaryotic flagella are structurally distinct from those found in prokaryotic cells. Whereas the prokaryotic flagellum is a stiff, rotating structure, a eukaryotic flagellum is more like a flexible whip composed of nine parallel pairs of microtubules surrounding a central pair of microtubules. This arrangement is referred to as a 9+2 array. The parallel microtubules use dynein motor proteins to move relative to each other, causing the flagellum to bend.

Cilia (singular: cilium) are a similar external structure found in some eukaryotic cells. Unique to eukaryotes, cilia are shorter than flagella and often cover the entire surface of a cell; however, they are structurally similar to flagella (a 9+2 array of microtubules) and use the same mechanism for movement. A structure called a basal body is found at the base of each cilium and flagellum. The basal body, which attaches the cilium or flagellum to the cell, is composed of an array of triplet microtubules similar to that of a centriole but embedded in the plasma membrane. Because of their shorter length, cilia use a rapid, flexible, waving motion. In addition to motility, cilia may have other functions such as sweeping particles past or into cells. For example, ciliated protozoans use the sweeping of cilia to move food particles into their mouthparts, and ciliated cells in the mammalian respiratory tract beat in synchrony to sweep mucus and debris up and out of the lungs.

Source:

Parker, N., Schneegurt, M., Thi Tu, A.-H., Forster, B. M., & Lister, P. (n.d.). Microbiology. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: https://openstax.org/details/books/microbiology

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