1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Amoeba

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AMOEBA, the Greek equivalent of the name “Amibe” given by Bery St Vincent to the Proteus animalcule of earlier naturalists, used as a quasi-popular term for any simple naked protist the sole external organs of which are pseudopodia, i.e. temporary outgrowths of the clearer outer layer of the soft protoplasmic body. It is also used as a generic name, and in its present limitations by E. Penard includes only those the pseudopodia of which are constantly changing, blunt outgrowths. In the former wider sense, amoebae are found in sluggish waters, fresh and salt, all over the world; they readily make their appearance in infusions putrefying after infection from aerially carried germs, and the leukocytes or colourless blood corpuscles of Metazoa are essentially amoebae in their structure and behaviour. The protoplasm of the individual is divided into a centrally placed body, the nucleus, of relatively stable shape, and the cytoplasm, itself divided into an outer, clearer ectoplasm (“ectosarc”) and an inner, more granular endoplasm (“endosarc”), passing into one another. The movements of amoebae are of several kinds. (1) The amoeba may grow out irregularly into blunt lobes, the pseudopodia, some being emitted while others are retracted, and so may advance in any direction by the emission of pseudopodia thitherward, and the enlargement of these by the passage of the organism into them. (2) Again, it may advance by a sort of rolling: the lower surface, or that in contact with the substratum over or under which it is passing, is viscid and adheres to the substratum, the superficial dorsal layer passing forward and bending over to the ventral side; whilst the converse action takes place at the hinder end; (3) or again, the pseudopodia, when long, well marked and relatively permanent, may serve as actual limbs on which the body is supported and on which it moves. In the outgrowth of a pseudopod the process may take place gradually, the ectoplasm growing as it stretches, or it may take place by the limiting layer of the ectosarc bursting, as it were, and a rounded prominence of the endosarc protruding and at once forming a new “skin” or pellicle. This last mode, termed “eruptive,” is common in the case of the enormous, multinucleate amoeba termed Pelomyxa palustris, which attains a diameter when contracted and spherical of as much as a line (over 2 mm.). From the ease with which amoebae are obtained and kept alive under the microscope, as well as from their identity in structure with the primitive elements of Metazoa, they have always been favourite objects of study for protoplasmic physiology under its simplest conditions. Among the investigators of protoplasmic movements we may cite F. Dujardin, O. Bütschli, L. Rhumbler and H. S. Jennings. The opening to the exterior of the contractile vesicle has been found here. Pelomyxa has yielded to A. E. Dixon and M. Hartog a peptic ferment, such as has been extracted by C. F. W. Krukenberg from the Myxomycete Fuligo (Flowers of Tan), which is the largest known naked mass of protoplasm without cellular differentiation.

Amoeba shows also the multiplication by fission, so characteristic of the cell: for the study of other modes of reproduction, spore formation and syngamic (or so-called fertilization) processes, fresh-water or salt-water amoebae are ill suited, and up to this date we do not know the life cycle of any free-living naked amoeba, though that of some parasitic forms and shell-bearers have been fully made out. Some amoebae are certainly young states of Myxomycetes. Encystment, the excretion of a membrane around the cell to tide over unfavourable circumstances, has been noted in almost all species.

Amoeba coli and A. histolytica are parasites in the gut of man, the former relatively harmless, the latter the cause of severe dysentery and hepatic abscess, common in India.

H. S. Jennings has recently made a full study of the movements of Amoeba, and of its general behaviour, and found therein many indications that these are on the whole such as we should expect of an organism working by “trial and error” rather than the uniform modes of non-living beings. Thus the operations of an amoeba ingesting a round, encysted Euglena are summed up thus: “One seems to see that the amoeba is trying to obtain this cyst for food, that it shows remarkable pertinacity in continuing its attempts to put forth efforts to accomplish this in various ways, and that it shows remarkable pertinacity in continuing its attempts to ingest the food when it meets with difficulties. Indeed the scene could be described in a much more vivid and interesting way by the use of terms still more anthropomorphic in tendency.” (M. Ha.)