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Oct. 28, 2011

Amoebas of Unusual Size

by Sam Flatow

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Look at your palm – just take a quick glance down at your open hand. Got it? That’s smaller than some of the amoebas found 6.6 miles down in the Mariana Trench, the deepest part of the ocean. If you paid attention in biology class, you may remember that a cell can only grow to a certain size, due to surface area and volume and math and stuff. Apparently, deep-sea amoebas skipped school that day.

These guys can grow up to 4 inches across. Try counting how many cells you have just on the surface of your palm. I’m going to take a little guess and say you can’t, because there are too many and they’re too small. Well, there’d only be one giant amoeba in your hand and it’d be large enough to eat your thumb. Could it eat your thumb? I don’t know for sure, but I’m not seeing any evidence that giant amoebas don’t have giant fangs.

In fact, there’s a lot of things we can’t prove they don’t have: combustion engines, democracy, clawed feet, Science Friday pocket protectors, mayonnaise – but what we know they do have is the ability to soak up high levels of mercury, lead, and uranium without getting sick. So, we found giant, uranium riddled, possibly fire-breathing amoebas off the coast of Japan…

They’ve been Godzilla’d.

Actually, they’re kind of cool little spongy things, not like squishy lab dish stuff. And that jellyfish at 29 seconds is just strutting his way through because he’s clearly got more pressing matters than some alien bubble-camera from the sky. Hi jellyfish! Oh, he must not have heard me, too busy zipping along.

Wait, where was I? Oh right, Godzilla.

So, what can we expect from these tiny titans? Will they be rampaging city stompers or monstrous champions? There’s no way to know for sure. We’ll just have to keep an eye on them for the next few million years. There’s no telling how they’ll evolve. And given the 6.6 mile depth, that also may be how long it takes for them to crawl all the way up to the beach.

About Sam Flatow

Sam is an assistant producer at Science Friday where he prepares the tasty SciFri snacks and blogs about smart cephalopods and zombie ants.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Science Friday.

Science Friday® is produced by the Science Friday Initiative, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

Science Friday® and SciFri® are registered service marks of Science Friday, Inc. Site design by Pentagram; engineering by Mediapolis.

 

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