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The Gliding Motion of Oscillatoria and Diatoms Send Print

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Created: Wednesday, 01 October 2008
Last update: Tuesday, 17 August 2010
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Phytoplankton are not all static and many show elaborate forms of motility.  While flagella and cilia are conspicuous methods of locomotion, one of the subtle ways phytoplankton move is shown by Oscillatoria, which are filamentous cyanobacteria.  They slowly glide through their medium without the use of cilia or flagella.  In contrast to Oscillatoria, diatoms display gliding motion on a solid surface in this example. 

Long green filaments of Oscillatoria are seen gliding past each other, and shorter filaments are seen gliding freely through pond water.  In addition to these cyanobacteria, diatoms are seen gliding on the solid surface of Oscillatoria filaments.

Gliding motion has been seen in several taxonomically unrelated organisms and the mechanism remains unclear (1, 2). 

A sample from a mat of green Oscillatoriawas taken from a temporary puddle using a Pasteur pipette and transported to the microscope in an Eppendorf tube.  Material was transferred to a drop of puddle water on a microscope slide and covered with a cover slip.  This slide was viewed with a conventional bright-field microscope and a Pupil Cam attachment (Ken-A-Vision, Kansas City, MO).



1.  Gordon, R., and R. W. Drum. 1970.  A capillarity mechanism for diatom gliding locomotion.  Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 67(1):338–344.

2.  Spormann, A. M. 1999.  Gliding motility in bacteria: insights from studies of Myxococcus xanthus.  Microbiol. Mol. Biol. Rev. 63(3):621–641.

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Tags: Cell biology (255) , Microbes in environment (275)