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The simple elegance of the multicellular structures made by the social amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum* has made it a favorite laboratory subject for cell and molecular studies. It serves as the representative of the Amoebozoa Kingdom that includes pathogenic amoebae such as Acanthamoeba, Entamoeba histolytica, and Naegleria fowleri as well as all sorts of solitary and social amoebae. The Amoebozoa branched off from the evolutionary line leading to animals shortly before fungi diverged. Dictyostelium is found all over the earth feeding on bacteria in the forest litter. When all the food has been consumed, the cells aggregate chemotactically into mounds that transform into tiny slugs that migrate toward light and heat before beginning to construct fruiting bodies. Each of the tens of thousands of cells in a fruiting body differentiates into either a spore or a stalk cell in response to chemical signals that the cells release at different stages of development.
1) Eichinger et al., (2005) The genome of the social amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum. Nature 435: 43-57.
2) Song et al., (2005) Comparing the Dictyostelium and Entamoeba genomes reveals an ancient split in the Conosa lineage. PLoS Comput. Biol.1: 579-584.