What Humans and Stentors Have in Common

What Humans and Stentors Have in Common


When we first looked up to the stars, we couldn’t
help but imagine what might live there, yet, so far, we have found nothing. When we first looked down into a microscope
though, well, we found more than we could ever have guessed. Let’s pretend that you and I are among the
earliest viewers of microbes, peering through a tiny piece of crafted glass set into a brass
plate. And, through that lens, we see a world that
is both entirely new, and unknowably ancient. And as we look, still in the earliest days
of charting this landscape, of cataloging strange organisms that defy or blur the classifications
of plant or animal. We see, among those myriad, mysterious creatures—those bejeweled diatoms and charming rotifers that make up our initial glimpses of the microcosmos—an
ensemble of blue or green trumpets: large compared to many of the other organisms we
see, their elongated bodies adorned in rows and rows of little hairs. It’s that horn shape that will end up identifying
them not just by sight, but by name: Stentor, for the herald of the Greek troops during
the Trojan War whose voice was said to carry with the strength of fifty men. Of course, our tools and understanding of
microbes have come a long way since those first microscopic investigations, making it
possible for us to share this footage of our own observations with you. Recently, outside Warsaw, James found a small
pond in the middle of a forest that is filled with microbes. That pond has given us more Stentors to collect
and film, which means it’s also provided us with an excuse to check in again on our favorite under-appreciated organisms of the microcosmos. After all, Stentor’s voice carried through
millennia, but the legend of the microbial Stentor seems more muted across the centuries
compared with some of the more studied ciliates. But modern scientific tools are giving us
a new appreciation for Stentors. But before we get there, we should note that
it’s not like Stentors have never held any fascination for scientists. As we talked about in our last Stentor-focused
episode, these single-celled organisms have a complex body and an incredible capacity
for regeneration. That regeneration process mirrors some of
the steps that drive the development of animal embryos, making Stentors a compelling object
of study all the way through the mid-20th century. But research is as much about the practicalities
as it is about exciting questions and implications. And for many scientists, Stentors were simply
not the right choice for their experiments. They were difficult to grow, and, in part
because of their tremendous size, they couldn’t be used in the same experimental set-ups that
other organisms were more amenable to. And so other ciliates that were easier to
work with, like paramecium, went on to become more popular model protozoa, teaching us through
the lens of their own single-celled eukaryotic bodies. But Stentors weren’t forgotten, they were
just awaiting the right tools. We here work with the basics: forest ponds,
a microscope, and yes hundreds of hours spent checking on our Stentors. And we still manage to find them in incredible
situations. This little ciliate pulls and pulls at the
stentor’s membrane until it just…erupts. You can see the bead-like nuclei pouring out
of the Stentor along with the food vacuoles and the rest of the cytoplasm, the inside
of its body now scattered around it. And yet…for all the damage that is inflicted
on this Stentor, it survives. It’s one thing to know that Stentors are
capable of this kind of regeneration, another thing altogether to witness its survival in
real time on our slides. This regenerative capacity, their shape, their
color, their size, the fact that they are single-celled organisms, all of those factors
make it seem like we must not have much in common with Stentors. And if we were just reliant on what we could
see, we might still believe that. But with the ongoing development of new genetic
tools, it’s the thing we’ve discovered that we share in common with Stentors, and
that actually renders them distinct from much of their brethren, that has given our trumpet
friends a new role in the study of the microscopic world. When it comes to genetics, we often think
of DNA as a universal code…this is the simple story that we’re taught in biology class. Three base-pair sequences of DNA code for
amino acids to be added onto a protein over and over until a gene ending code is reached
and the protein is complete. And those codes that decide what amino acid
is added onto the protein, well, we’re taught that that is a universal thing. It is not. There is what we call the standard code, the
one that we, and all multicellular organisms use. And then there are others where letters change,
and punctuation becomes words, and most of these are bacterial or mitochondrial code. But especially among eukaryotes, ciliates
are noted genetic eccentrics due to their tendency to take some of the sequences that,
in our code, signal the end of a gene, and interpret them as coding for yet more amino
acids to stack onto the protein. Different ciliate lineages have evolved their
own versions of this altered interpretation, but there are only a few ciliates that have
been thought to follow the standard genetic code that the rest of us do and Stentors are one of them. And with recent genetic techniques probing
the sequences of Stentor coeruleus, that strange conformity has now been confirmed. Usually, when we bring up genetic studies
of microbes on this channel, they raise questions about the details of classification schemes. In the case of Stentors though, they raise
a deeper question: why do they resemble us in this way, and why don’t the vast majority
of other ciliates? If Stentor coeruleus follows the standard
genetic code, does that mean the original ciliate also did? And if so, then does that mean the nonstandard
genetic codes exhibited by so many ciliates now are not some property inherent to the
phylum, but a product of an evolutionary path that started after the Stentor family began
to branch away, a very very long time ago? Evolution is weird and messy. It is a knot that sometimes seems to become
more tangled the more we try to unravel it. And Stentors, well, they’re confirmation
that no matter how simple something may seem—whether it’s their own surprisingly complex single-celled
bodies or the supposed universality of the genetic code—it only takes a few “what’s”,
“why’s,” and “how’s” to find yourself enmeshed in a web of questions that is not
unlike the marvelous mysteries first uncovered by the original microbe hunters hundreds of
years ago. Their discoveries were world changing, but
so are ours. We live in a time of great knowing, of great
uncovering, but that has also helped us realize how many mysteries we have yet to solve. Thank you for coming on this journey with
us as we explore the unseen world that surrounds us. If you would like to get a pin celebrating
the majesty of this peculiar organism, we have Stentor coeruleus pins available now. There’s a link in the description. And also thank you so much to all of our patrons
on Patreon who allow us to continue these explorations and keep our eyes out for more
bizarre happenings in our microscopes. Without people like this, the work we’re
doing here on Journey to the Microcosmos would not be possible. So if you’re able to potentially join them,
that would be amazing. And thank you to all of the people on this
list. If you want to see more from our Master of
Microscopes, James, you can check out Jam & Germ’s on Instagram. And if you want to see more from us, here
at Journey to the Microcosmos, you can find us at youtube.com/microcosmos.

100 thoughts on “What Humans and Stentors Have in Common

  1. If you need any more incentive to check out James' Instagram, he just posted a couple videos of baby tardigrades and there are probably more to come so….

  2. The Microbe is so very small
    You cannot make him out at all,
    But many sanguine people hope
    To see him through a microscope.
    His jointed tongue that lies beneath
    A hundred curious rows of teeth;
    His seven tufted tails with lots
    Of lovely pink and purple spots,
    On each of which a pattern stands,
    Composed of forty separate bands;
    His eyebrows of a tender green;
    All these have never yet been seen–
    But Scientists, who ought to know,
    Assure us that they must be so….
    Oh! let us never, never doubt
    What nobody is sure about!
    — Hilaire Belloc

  3. I'm assuming you wear some pretty hardy safety gloves when handling some of your specimens (I also assume you don't handle mass killer bacteria or viruses).

  4. Can you use them to build things? And can they learn like the slime? Lmao give them mitochondria and the ability of photosynthesis.

  5. Path of least resistance = logical procession=spiritual eternal truths. Good is good, acceptable evil is acceptable, bad is bad. Now and forever in any planet…. ahhhhhh man!

  6. Stentors are difficult to grow? No, dude, no! I am growing stentors and rotifers like crazy in one of my jars. When I have inspected the water samples from that jar I almost did a triple back flip. I saw colonies of these critters.
    There are some tricks to breed these, mainly, you have to provide water that is rich with waste feeding bacteria, that is their main food surce.

  7. in a world shaped by impatient bits and bytes, where that average human attention span is measured in seconds, to those of us who remember when it was 20 minutes, and we watched it shrink to 8 minutes, yes, for those of us who watched Television commercials go from 90 seconds to 20 seconds, we are no longer able to suffer through videos like this: rambling …………

  8. Thinking we found nothing when looking out into space just shows how close minded one is. The structures and mechanics in outer space are just too wast and slow for most of us to be recognized as life.

  9. This video contains some of the most beautiful and striking images found in any of your videos. The use of color to differentiate foreground (yellows, greens, light blues) from the background (richly saturated blues, dark blues, and blacks) was what I first noticed.
    richard hargrove

    Photos are like opinions: everyone has them and no one wants to see yours.

  10. Hi Microcosmos masters! I'd like to see slow motion footage to understand how the cilia work. And may be are there other thing to show in slowmo. Many thanks for the journey.

  11. Are researchers seeing any changes associated to micro environment / climate change / loss of habitat?

    Do you see (identifiable) micro plastics causing issues? Teflons? Etc

  12. I had a feeling when I saw that video on James's channel with the stentor getting bit I would see it over here! Masterful work as always, ladies and gentlemen

  13. Have you guys considered filming in 4k now that you've got all the cool new equipment? If there was a channel I'd like to have in 4k, it's this one.

  14. It's easier to see more when you look inward with eyes the size of galaxies than it is to look outward at galaxies with microscopic eyes

  15. Would it ever be possible to do a livestream? i dont know if thats doable logistically, but if it is, it would be super cool to have a stream every once in a while where we get to watch you guys look through slides and talk about what you see, or whatever else you felt like doing.
    just a thought

  16. have you guys ever used a sample from a marine environment for a video?
    i could be wrong but i only recall seeing freshwater organisms. might be cool to see what you find if you took a sample from the ocean or a tidepool or something

  17. I legitimately thought this was Carl Sagan's voice waxing poetic that you dubbed over the video, until you started getting specific to the content you're making, then I realized you just got the voice. Absolutely breathtaking.

  18. Odd little things. I wonder how they decide whether to be free swimming or anchor down with the grabby bit at the "tail" end? Footage seems to show examples of both behaviors, and sometimes mixed at the same time.

  19. I have watched your 6 videos in a row and now I am already feeling sleepy over here

    That just mean your guys are doing great

  20. I'm in my third year of a biological sciences degree and this is the first time I've ever heard that the genetic code isn't universal and is different in some organisms. when I heard that I got all nerdy and started jigging going 'that is sooooo cooolllllllll'

  21. the visual are soothing to the eyes, as are the audibles to the ears. 🙂 Thank you! How could you listen in on these organisms?

  22. I love learning about the microcosmos when it is taught by the Gman. I'm still waiting on him to say "Time Dr. Freeman. Is it really that time again?"

  23. Sometimes I like to pause the video and admire the little details. The little folds of the cell wall as it curls up, the slight differences in pigment, the mesmerizing pattern of the stripes, how I can see the organelles through the cell wall, how what I see changes as it swims closer and farther away, it's beautiful.

  24. A while ago, you posted a video of a pregnant tardigrade, exhibiting some rather fascinating behaviour. Do you have an update on how that went? I know it was taking longer to happen than you thought it would, and I was curious. Peace x

  25. is it possible that it's simply because of convergent evolution?

    the sheer coincidence makes it so their genetic function is similar to us independently without any relation whatsoever

  26. @Hank: Have you considered doing voice-overs for self-hypnosis audio content?  I'm not joking, your voice on this channel has a very soothing and calming quality.  I'm not saying that it puts me to sleep, but it quiets my mind in ways not otherwise encountered.

  27. Can I have half an hour of watching that last section (stentors in blue)………… it's like watching a live larva lamp. I wish you did some ASMR/Relaxation episodes where we just get the amazing music and the microbes.

  28. Read it as "what humans and senators have in common", like, what? We have something in common with those things?

  29. 4:38

    That was some true gore right there. Almost hard to watch. I'm surprised YouTube hasn't taken this down. That was hardcore. Stentor plays with invincibility mode on.

  30. @Journey to the Microcosmos 2:30 Absolutely gorgeous. Under polarized light they look like they're full sparkling jewels or maybe glittering stars. Like they're their own little universe. At 2:35 even cooler. I love the color they're giving off. They look like they glowing, like magic mushrooms. Also I was thinking if you printed out high quality stills from the video markers that I pointed out in my comment along with 9:52 which is just another gorgeous example of these creatures. People would probably purchase them and frame them as art for their homes. I think they're beautiful. I would definitely hang a picture of one of these prints of these Stentors on my wall. Or what about everybody's favorite Tardigrades or Rotifers? I think still shots of all these amazing organisms shot under polarized light would be a great way to push merch and make some extra money for the channel.

  31. If I had a country of my own this would be on national television and things like this that inform us of what the world really is and what real mystery is.
    What we are as a species is no different than just another hierarchy of bacteria and in the vastness of the universe, we swirl and probe around just like these Stentors.
    Our city-scape look exactly like networks that build all life. our streets are the veins that pump the blood-cells ( our cars, transport and etc ) to the heart and other organs and supply it with all it needs to live on for another day. Being seemingly the most intelligent life-form on earth we instinctively fulfil and accomplish the same primordial roles.

    Could we help life reach "immortality" with our technology, time will only tell.

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