Syringammina fragilissima

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Domain: Eukaryota, Kingdom: Rhizaria, Phylum: Foraminifera, Class: Xenophyphorea, Order: Psamminidia, Family: Syringamminidae, Genus: Syringammina, Species: fraglissima

Description and Significance

Syringammina fragilissima is an organism that belongs to the larger group called the Xenophyophore [1]. Xenophyophores are massive unicellular organisms found in the deep sea. They are the largest known individual cells to date [2]. They are extremophiles, in that they live in deep sea waters and exist in extreme pressure. Some have been found in depths of 6.6 miles under sea. Xenophyophores are not very well known, but is known about them is that they are abundant in the ocean and are extremophiles. What makes Xenophyophores so unique and special is their capability of being resistance to most metals. They are able to capture specific particles from the water and are then able to concentrate high levels of metals like lead, uranium, and mercury [2]. Another thing that xenophyophores are capable of doing is bioturbation of the sand/sediment. Bioturbation is defined as the changing of the sand, either texturally or by the displacement of microorganisms and other particles. This bioturbation allows for the generation of habitats for other animals, e.g. isopods. THis is an example of its significance, because it has an effect on the ecosystem of the ocean. Another significance of xenophyophores is the study of evolutionary symbiotic relationships. They are believe to have originated from a symbiotic relationship. They came to this conclusion via the structure of it. Xenophyophores are made up cytoplasm containing multiple nuclei that is surrounded by branches of tubes called granellare. Then on the outside, the granellare and stercomes are surrounded by a test, which is a shell-like structure made from minerals and skeletons of other microorganisms [3]. Xenophyophores also belong to the larger group, Foramaminifera.

Syringammina fragilissima were discovered off the coast of Scotland. Although they are found on the sea floors of Europe as well as Africa. This is the largest species of xenophyophores, having a diameter of around 8 inches. Their test is very fragile and brittle, making it hard to study due to their disintegrating nature. They are either suspension feeders or they contain limb like structures that poke out and grab food. An interesting thing about this organism is their behavior of farming bacteria. A study was shown that Syringammina fragilissima have very high levels of fatty acids found only in specific bacteria. In the test, the Syringammina would display a trait in that it would collect and accumulate particles of waste. What it would do with the waste is generate a string that could be used to cultivate the bacteria. In a sense, the significance of this is the idea of an organism cultivating and farming bacteria. Another prime example of this organisms importance to the eco system is its ability to provide microhabitats for other organisms. Dr. Hughes experiment resulted in that tests increase biodiversity of nethic assemblages in the area. They were able to conclude this result due to the abundance as well as species richness of the foraminiferal associated with other forms of xenophyophore were much higher in the surrounding. They also were able to find high levels of other xenophyophore within the tubes and branches of the test 4]. Unfortunately, there is not very much known about this organism, other than its anatomy and its relating characteristic to the description of xenophyophores. The main significance of this organism is its relative obscurity and lack of information. Even though this organism was discovered 131 years ago.

Structure and Life Cycle

Its structure is that of a xenophyophore. It contains a test, the outer shell, that covers the cell branches and tubes underneath it. The test is very fragile and easily broken. The name Syringammina fragilissima translates to, "very fragile sand pipe" [3]. Each scattered tube underneath the shell contains multiple nuclei, making it unique in that sense. But its overall structure is explained in the section "Description and Significance". Unfortunately, the life cycle has not been studied effectively. It is hard to study them due to their fragile nature and their relative difficulty to observe. But what has been deduced is that they are able to switch between asexual and sexual reproduction, because they belong to the xenophyophores, which belong to foraminiferans.


Its natural habitat is mainly the sea floor of Europe or around North Africa.


[1] Our Amazing Planet. 2011. Giant Amoebas Discovered in Deepest Ocean Trench. NBCnews.Com

[2] Mel Goodwin. Window to the Deep Exploration: Giants of the Protozoa. Ocean Explorer. Life Science

[3] Michael Marshall. 2010. Zoologger: "Living Beach Ball"is Giant Living Cell". NewScientist Life.

[4] Hughes, J.A. and Gooday, A.J. (2002). The Distribution of the xenophyophore Syringammina fragilissima in the northeast Atlantic and its influence on the diversity of bathyal foraminiferal assemblages. Newsletter of Micropaleontology, No. 66, 15-16.

Ole Tendal. (2009) "Syringammina fragilissima Brady, 1883". World Register of Marine Species

PawlowskiJ, Holzman M, et a. (2003). Small subunit ribosomal DNA suggest that Xenophyophorean Syringammina fragilissima is a foraminferan. Journal of Eukaryotic Biology 50(6): 483-7


Page authored by Ritt Kong, student of Mandy Brosnahan, Instructor at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, MICB 3301/3303: Biology of Microorganisms.