Phototaxis and Sensory Transduction in Euglena

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Science  14 Sep 1973:
Vol. 181, Issue 4104, pp. 1009-1015
DOI: 10.1126/science.181.4104.1009


The accumulation of Euglena gracilis in an illuminated region is brought about by two main mechanisms: orientation and subsequent directed movement (positive phototaxis) toward light scattered from particles in the illuminated zone; and by the trapping of cells in this region because of shock reactions experienced upon the cells encountering a sudden decrease of light intensity at the light-dark boundary (inverse photophobic responses).Phototactic orientation is mediated by inverse photophobic reactions which occur when the shadow of the stigma periodically falls upon the photoreceptor proper. Euglena also exhibits shock reactions when an already high light intensity is increased further (direct photophobic responses).

The expression of both types of phobic responses depends upon stimulus intensity and adaptation of the sensory system in a seemingly complex way. A definition of the minimum components of the stimulus transduction system and a systems analytical approach to the study of input-output relationships enables one to construct an electronic analog of the cell's signal processing system that converts the photoreceptor input to commands which activate or inhibit flagellar reorientation. Computer simulation studies show that this model has considerable predictive value.

It is hoped that with the approach presented in this article, a generalized model has become available for dealing with the questions of sensory transduction in aneural systems. Certainly, at this point more questions have been raised than have been answered. Where is the processing device located? Are its kinetic properties determined by electrical processes or by the rates of chemical reactions? Is the processor, and thereby the behavior of the orgamism, modulated by natural environmental parameters, and can it be modified permanently through more drastic chemical treatment of the cell? Is the system capable of permanent or transitory modification through repeated response, that is, does it exhibit phenomena analogous to learning and memory in higher organisms? These are only a few of the problems that require study in the future.