Link to Pubmed [PMID] – 21464291
Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 2011 May;108(18):7290-5
Paramecium and other protists are able to swim at velocities reaching several times their body size per second by beating their cilia in an organized fashion. The cilia beat in an asymmetric stroke, which breaks the time reversal symmetry of small scale flows. Here we show that Paramecium uses three different swimming gaits to escape from an aggression, applied in the form of a focused laser heating. For a weak aggression, normal swimming is sufficient and produces a steady swimming velocity. As the heating amplitude is increased, a higher acceleration and faster swimming are achieved through synchronized beating of the cilia, which begin by producing oscillating swimming velocities and later give way to the usual gait. Finally, escape from a life-threatening aggression is achieved by a “jumping” gait, which does not rely on the cilia but is achieved through the explosive release of a group of trichocysts in the direction of the hot spot. Measurements through high-speed video explain the role of trichocysts in defending against aggressions while showing unexpected transitions in the swimming of microorganisms. These measurements also demonstrate that Paramecium optimizes its escape pattern by taking advantage of its inertia.