Page:EB1911 - Volume 22.djvu/495

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zoological standpoint, but which becomes less satisfactory when we take into consideration the whole range of microscopic unicellular organisms. Besides the true Protozoa, which, ex hypothesi, are organisms of animal nature, there are many other organisms of equally simple organization, including the Bacteria and the unicellular plants. The Bacteria stand sharply apart from the other forms of life, not only, in many cases, by their divergent methods of metabolism, but by morphological characteristics, such as the definite body-form limited by a distinct envelope, the absence of organs for locomotion other than the peculiar flagella, and, above all, by the lack of any differentiation of the body-protoplasm into nucleus and cytoplasm, as in all true cells of either animal or vegetable nature. On the other hand, to separate by hard-and-fast definitions the unicellular plants from the unicellular animals is not only difficult but practically impossible. The essential difference between plant and animal is a physiological one, a difference in the method of nutrition. A typical green plant is able to live independently of other organisms and to build up its substance from simple gases in the air and inorganic salts in the soil or water, provided that certain conditions of light and moisture be present in its environment; this is the so-called holophytic method of nutrition. A typical animal, on the other hand, while practically independent of sunlight, is not able to exist apart from other living organisms, since it is not able to build up its substance from simple chemical constituents like a plant, but must be supplied with ready-made proteids in its food, for which it requires other organisms, either plants or animals; this is the so-called holozoic method of nutrition. Intermediate between these two habits of life is the so-called saprophytic habit, exemplified by the fungi amongst plants; in this method of nutrition the organism cannot build up its substance entirely from inorganic substances, but absorbs the organic substances present in solutions containing organic salts or decaying animal or vegetable matter.

If we regard the organisms termed collectively Protozoa from the point of view of their methods of nutrition (considering for the present only free-living, non-parasitic forms), we find in one class, the Flagellata, examples of the three methods mentioned above, the holozoic, holophytic and saprophytic habit of life, not only in species closely allied to each other, but even combined in one and the same species at different periods of its life or in different surroundings. An individual of a given species may contain chlorophyll, with which it decomposes carbonic acid gas in the sunlight, like a plant, while possessing a definite mouth-aperture, by means of which it can ingest solid food, like an animal. Such instances show clearly that in the simplest forms of life the difference between plant and animal is but a difference of habit and of mode of nutrition, to which the organism is not at first irrevocably committed, and which are not at first accompanied by distinctive morphological characteristics. Only when the organism becomes specialized for one or the other mode of life exclusively does it acquire such definite morphological characters that the difference between plant and animal can be used for the purpose of a natural classification, as in the higher forms of life. In the lowest forms it is not possible to base natural subdivisions on their vegetable or animal nature. For this reason it has been proposed by E. Haeckel to unite all the primitive forms of life in which the body is morphologically equivalent to a single cell into one group, the Protista, irrespective of their animal or vegetable nature. In this method of dealing with the problem the Protista are regarded as a distinct kingdom (Reich), more or less intermediate between, but distinct from, the animal and vegetable kingdoms, and representing the ancestral stock from which both animals and plants have sprung. Many authorities have followed Haeckel’s lead in the matter, and the science of Protistology or Protistenkunde has already a special journal devoted to the publication of researches upon it. But though it may be more scientific, from a theoretical point of view, to group all these primitive organisms together in the way suggested by Haeckel, in practice it is inconvenient, on account of the vast number of forms of life to be comprised as Protista, their diversity in habit of life and organization, and, above all, the difference in the technical methods required for their study, which becomes too complicated for a single worker. Hence Protistology becomes split up in practice by its own mass into three sciences: the Bacteria are the objects of the science of bacteriology; botanists deal with the unicellular plants; and the zoologists with those Protista which are more distinctly animal in their characters.

Hence the Protozoa are to be regarded as a convenient rather than a natural group, and may be characterized generally as follows: Organisms in which the individual is a single cell, that is to say, consists of a single undivided mass of protoplasm which is capable of independent existence in a suitable environment; if many such individuals be combined together to form a colony, as frequently occurs, there is no differentiation of the individuals except for reproductive purposes, and never for tissue-formation as in the Metazoa. The body always contains chromatin or nuclear substance, which may be disposed in various ways, but usually forms one or more concentrated masses termed nuclei, which can be distinguished sharply from the general body-protoplasm or cytoplasm. The protoplasmic body may be naked at the surface, or may be limited and enclosed by a distinct envelope or cell-membrane, which is not usually of the nature of cellulose, except in holophytic forms. Organs serving for locomotion and for the capture and assimilation of solid food are usually present, but may be wanting altogether when the mode of nutrition is other than holozoic; chlorophyll, on the other hand, is only found as a constituent of the body-substance in the holophytic Flagellata.[1] To these characters it may be added that reproduction is effected by some form of fission, or division of the body into smaller portions, and that in the vast majority of Protozoa, if not in all, a process of conjugation or syngamy occurs at some period in the life-cycle, the essential feature of the process being fusion of nuclear matter from distinct individuals. The foregoing definition does not distinguish the Protozoa sharply from the primitive forms of plant-life, with which, as stated above, they are connected by many transitions; but the differentiation of the body-substance into nucleus and cytoplasm separates them at once from the Bacteria, in which the chromatin is distributed evenly through the body-protoplasm.

Protozoa and Disease.—The study of the Protozoa has acquired great practical importance from the fact that many of them live as parasites of other animals, and as such may be the cause of dangerous diseases and epidemics in the higher forms of animal life and in man (see Parasitic Diseases). Examples of parasitic forms are to be found in all the four classes into which, as will be stated below, the Protozoa are divided, and one class, the Sporozoa, is composed entirely of endoparasitic forms. Hence Protozoology, as it is termed, is rapidly assuming an importance in medical and veterinary science almost equal to that of bacteriology, although the recognition of Protozoa as agents in the production of disease is hardly older than a decade. The most striking instances of Protozoa well established as pathogenic agents are the malarial parasites, the species of Piroplasma causing haemoglobinuria of cattle and other animals, the trypanosomes causing tsetse-fly disease, surra, sleeping sickness, and other maladies, the species of Leishmania causing kala azar and oriental sore, and the Amoeba responsible for the so-called amoebic dysentery. Other diseases referred, but as yet doubtfully, to the agency of Protozoa are syphilis, smallpox, hydrophobia, yellow fever, and even cancer.

It is only possible here to discuss briefly in a general way the relations of these parasites to their hosts. When two organisms stand habitually in the relation of host and parasite, an equilibrium tends to become established gradually between them, so

  1. Many Protozoa contain symbiotic green organisms, so-called zoochlorellae or zooxanthellae, in their body-protoplasm; for instance, Radiolaria, and Ciliata such as Paramecium bursaria, &c. This condition must be carefully distinguished from chlorophyll occurring as a cell-constituent.