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Introducing Tintinnophagus acutus

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

Photo of a microscopic dinospore of Tintinnophagus acutus

A Tintinnophagus acutus dinospore, with a flagellum. Photo: Wayne Coats

In the microscopic world of marine protists, many species drift in the ocean currents unstudied and nameless. This is no longer the case for the parasitic dinoflagellate Tintinnophagus acutus. SERC plankton ecologist Wayne Coats recently finished an extensive description of the organism and thus earned naming rights.

Of the approximately 2,000 known species of living dinoflagellates, about 150 are parasitic. These organisms can alter the marine food web, in some cases destroying prey that consumers like copepods and larval fish rely upon. Coats first spotted T. acutus in the 1980s, in plankton samples he had collected from the Chesapeake Bay. Through his microscope, he noticed a ciliate being edged out of its lorica (shell) by a dinoflagellate. It looked different from others he had observed.
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