Foraging mechanisms in excavate flagellates shed light on the functional ecology of early eukaryotes

Sei Suzuki-Tellier, Federica Miano, Seyed Saeed Asadzadeh*, Alastair G. B. Simpson, Thomas Kiørboe

*Corresponding author for this work

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The phagotrophic flagellates described as "typical excavates" have been hypothesized to be morphologically similar to the Last Eukaryotic Common Ancestor and understanding the functional ecology of excavates may therefore help shed light on the ecology of these early eukaryotes. Typical excavates are characterized by a posterior flagellum equipped with a vane that beats in a ventral groove. Here, we combined flow visualization and observations of prey capture in representatives of the three clades of excavates with computational fluid dynamic modeling, to understand the functional significance of this cell architecture. We record substantial differences amongst species in the orientation of the vane and the beat plane of the posterior flagellum. Clearance rate magnitudes estimated from flow visualization and modeling are both like that of other similarly sized flagellates. The interaction between a vaned flagellum beating in a confinement is modeled to produce a very efficient feeding current at low energy costs, irrespective of the beat plane and vane orientation and of all other morphological variations. Given this predicted uniformity of function, we suggest that the foraging systems of typical excavates studied here may be good proxies to understand those potentially used by our distant ancestors more than 1 billion years ago.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2317264121
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number22
Publication statusPublished - 2024


  • Early eukaryotic evolution
  • Feeding current
  • Prey capture
  • Vane-bearing flagella
  • Clearance rate


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