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Protists are organisms that don’t get a lot of attention – but they should! This lesson describes what protists are and reveals the benefits they provide to both humans and other organisms.

Introduction to Bacteria ; Protists

To understand the benefits of protists, we should first talk about what they are! Protists are a diverse set of usually single-celled organisms that include algae, diatoms, dinoflagellates, amoebae, euglena, and slime molds. Protists come in different shapes and sizes, but they all have a few things in common.They have eukaryotic cells, which means each cell has a defined nucleus found within a membrane. Some protists are made up of only a single cell, while others have many cells.

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Some are capable of making their own food, making them autotrophs, while others have to eat other organisms, making them heterotrophs. Most, if not all, protists live in aquatic or damp environments, but they can be found in both fresh and salt water bodies. Though protists are fundamentally different from plants, animals, and fungi, they may be classified as ‘plant-like,’ ‘animal-like,’ or ‘fungi-like’ based on their attributes.

Benefits

Not all protists are harmless. In fact, protists are responsible for malaria, giardia, and other diseases in humans. But let’s not write them all off just yet. Protists also provide many benefits to both humans and other organisms.For example, plant-like protists produce almost half of the oxygen found on our planet through the process of photosynthesis. That’s pretty impressive for organisms that are often microscopic in size!Other types of protists act as decomposers.

This means they break down dead organic material into components that can be used by other organisms. This process is called nutrient recycling, and we would be in trouble if we didn’t have decomposers hard at work.Protists also play a very important role in ecosystem food webs.

For example, algae (a type of protist) are often the primary producers in lake ecosystems, making up the base of the lake’s entire food web. Without the algae, the entire food web would collapse.Protists also provide different chemicals. Some of these are used to treat various medical maladies, like arthritis and high blood pressure. Others are used in industrial processes; in fact, many food additives come from protists.

We also make abrasives using the shells from dead diatoms that accumulate in sediment over long periods of time.

Lesson Summary

Protists are a diverse group of eukaryotic organisms. Some are capable of making their own food as autotrophs, while others have to eat other organisms to get their energy.

We often classify protists based on their characteristics: as plant-like, animal-like, and fungi-like. When we consider the benefits protists provide, one of the first places we should look is their contribution to our oxygen supply. They produce almost half of our oxygen! They also make up large portions of food webs, acting like the base of a pyramid.

Finally, protists provide chemicals that are used in medicine, as well as various other industries. Though we might not always think of protists as important organisms, their contributions should not be overlooked.

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