Swarming and Aggregation in the Parasitic Diplomonad Flagellate Spironucleus vortens

Sarah L. Poynton, Lauren Ostrenga, Kenneth W. Witwer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Pathogenicity, evolutionary history, and unusual cell organization of diplomonads are well known, particularly for Giardia and Spironucleus; however, behavior of these aerotolerant anaerobes is largely unknown. Addressing this deficit, we studied behavior of the piscine diplomonad Spironucleus vortens (ATCC 50386) in in vitro culture. Spironucleus vortens trophozoites from Angelfish, Pterophyllum scalare, were maintained axenically in modified liver digest, yeast extract, and iron (LYI) medium, at 22 °C in the dark, and subcultured weekly. Cultures were monitored every 1–2 d, by removing an aliquot, and loading cells into a hemocytometer chamber, or onto a regular microscope slide. We observed three distinct swimming behaviors: (i) spontaneous formation of swarms, reaching 200 μm in diameter, persisting for up to several min in situ, (ii) directional movement of the swarm, via collective motility, and (iii) independent swimming of trophozoites to form a band (aggregation), presumably at the location of optimal environmental conditions. These behaviors have not previously been reported in Spironucleus. The observation that flagellate motility can change, from individual self-propulsion to complex collective swarming motility, prompts us to advocate S. vortens as a new model for study of group behavioral dynamics, complementing emerging studies of collective swimming in flagellated bacteria.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)545-552
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Eukaryotic Microbiology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1 2019


  • Aerotolerant anaerobes
  • collective motility
  • flagellated bacteria
  • individual self-propulsion
  • in vitro culture
  • model organism
  • swimming

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology


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