Mysterious Jiggly Crystals and Other Intracellular Structures

When you peer into the microcosmos, it’s
sometimes hard to see past the cells themselves. Flitting around, fighting, surviving, movement
and shapes and colors. But we can see deeper, and there is so much
to see if you look beyond that first level, and into the cell itself. In the cytoplasm, mysteries and curiosities
abound. Here in our macro-world, to see inside an organism we need expensive scans or exploratory surgeries. In the microcosmos, we can just turn on the
light and see some of the bizarre and beautiful systems that these organisms have for increasing
their chances of surviving a harsh and uncertain world. So let’s take a look at some of the structures
inside of cells that you may have never heard of, and that we love to let blow our
minds. This is the unicellular alga Closterium. And at the very tips of the cells, an alluring
little object. Do you see that orb with the tiny round things
inside? Those are actual crystals made of barium and
calcium sulfate. But why are they there? Well, no one knows yet, and we hope…nay
we know… someone will someday solve this mystery. But for now, it is yet another thing that we do
not know about our universe. These crystals are extremely small. Around two to three microns across. If you divided a milimeter into 500 equal
pieces, one of those pieces is how big those little grains are. But there’s more. You see how those crystals jiggle around and
never stop moving, even though nothing seems to be moving them. Well, one thing we know about the universe
is that things don’t just move….the energy has to be coming from somewhere. Let’s remember that everything you’re looking at here is made of atoms. And when two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen
atom come together, they form a water molecule. Now, Closterium lives in water, which means
it’s surrounded by and filled with water molecules. And they are in constant motion, that’s what heat is. The movement of atoms and molecules. If they weren’t moving at all, that would
be absolute zero. -273.15 degrees Celcius. That’s not where we’re at. These water molecules are moving around a lot and they’re bumping into
everything and they can even move objects around. But if something is really big, like a whole
Closterium cell, you can’t actually see any movement. But since these crystals are tiny, the water molecules visibly toss them around. This dancing is called Brownian
motion, and we love it because we of course cannot see water molecules under the microscope, but we can observe their effect on these crystals. Indeed, Albert Einstein used brownian motion
to confirm that atoms and molecules exist which, in 1905 when he published his paper
on the subject, was still a matter of debate! And now, we’re watching it happen…watching
water molecules smashing around into crystals that, as yet, remain unexplained, but must have some reason to exist besides being fun for us to look at. This is Nasulla ornata, a beautiful unicellular
ciliate. Although it doesn’t look like it right now,
they can move quite fast. But what you are looking at is a squashed Nassula ornata. We decided to give it a bit of a squeeze so we could take a real good look. When Nassula ornata hunts for food, It prefers filamentous cyanobacteria or algae It wraps its membrane around it, forming a food vacuole. As it continues to eat it forms more and more of these vacuoles. Now, what’s so nice about them are their colors. Cyanobacteria and algae, Nassula’s food,
are green, but when Nassula starts dumping digestive enzymes into these food vacuoles, a chemical reaction occurs changing
the color of the food vacuole over time. Because different vacuoles are at different
stages of digestion, each vacuole is a slightly different color, giving this ciliate its beautiful, colored polka dots. These are the very long, very skinny cells of the filamentous sulfur bacteria Beggiatoa. You can find them all over the globe living
in habitats from marine caves to sulfur springs to everyday ponds and rivers. When we find them, they are usually on freshwater
pond sediments or decomposing organic material. Beggiatoa excretes mucus, which allows them to glide around on the sediments. Beggiatoa prefers sulfur-rich environments
because they oxidize hydrogen sulfide as an energy source. The hydrogen is used by the organism in chemical synthesis, and the sulfur is left over. Every one of those tiny black dots that you see is a granule of inorganic sulfur. Here’s another clip where you can look at
them a bit closer under 1000 times magnification. Which, for the moment, is about as good as we can do here. Now, what’s happening here…these little
bubbles forming and popping…well they are not bubbles of air, they’re bubbles of pure
water. One of the most fundamental structures for
life as a freshwater single-celled organism is the contractile vacuole. This organelle allows unicellular organisms
to pump excess water from their cell. Why? Well, Inside of every cell, there are a lot
of dissolved substances—more than the surrounding water contains, certainly. Whenever there is an imbalance like this, things
tend toward equilibrium. And the only thing separating these cells
from the water around them is a membrane that allows some, but not all substances
to pass through it passively. One of those substances is water. When the concentration of stuff inside the
cell is higher than the concentration of stuff outside, water diffuses into the cell. There is no way to stop this diffusion. The solution to this constant influx of water
is the contractile vacuole. This organelle fights a continuous battle, pumping and pumping and pumping the water out. Imagine, though, if the contractile vacuole
was not working. You might think that, eventually, the cell
would fill with so much water that the cellular machinery might break down. Well, maybe, except, before that happened,
the cell would expand so much that its membrane would break and it would literally explode. So, y’know, good job little vacuole. The ciliate Loxodes is a common resident of
different aquatic habitats, but they prefer a distinct zone in the water. A “Goldilocks” zone for oxygen. They like concentration not to be too
high and not too low. And in a body water, unless something weird is
going on, the oxygen concentration is higher at the top and lower toward the bottom. Because of its specific oxygen concentration
preference, Loxodes needs to know which way is up and which way is down so it can find
just the right spot. But how could a single celled organism know
up from down? Well, Loxodes can sense gravity! It has organelles called Müller vesicles
that each contain a spherical mineral granule—the Müller body—attached to a hair-like cilium. Sorry these friends zip around so quick, it
can be hard to get a good look. These granules, the Müller bodies are actually pulled down by gravity, and it is believed that this “pulling” causes sensory signals to be transmitted to
the cell through the cilium. So, Loxodes, despite being tiny and despite being just a single cell, has an organ very much like our inner ear, allowing it to sense
up from down. So yes, microbes display quite the collection
of intracellular structures! Only a few of which we discussed here. Some shiny, some colorful, and some that provide
fascinating advanced capabilities. And it makes us wonder, what other structures are yet to be discovered? There is so much that we do not know. We hope to report back to you on this question
because we are sure that there are many more out there just waiting to be unveiled by a
discerning eye peering into the microcosmos. If you want to see more from our Master of Microscopes, James check out Jam and Germs on Instagram. And if you want to see more from us here at Journey to the Microcosmos, I bet there’s a subscribe button somewhere nearby.


  1. I was thinking maybe you could create a Patreon page or something like that so the viewers could help you raise the funds for new equipment?

  2. Great stuff, keep it up! I will definitely watch more of it, considering how much I have enjoyed your productions so far.

  3. More, I need more zoom! xD This is simply so fascinating, I've been often a bit sad for not being among the privileged scientists who can look at the microcosmos. As a process structuralist this is even more amplified to me. Thank God we have the internet. Can't wait for you to grow and get better equipment. :3

  4. Hubble deep field pictures and unbridled imagination leads me into trance. The wonders of the microcosmos have no less of an effect on me. Hollywood couldn't construct a plot that competes with this stuff

  5. what a refreshing channel ! beautiful/clear narration, no annoying jokes, non-aggressive music, beautiful imagery – just information presented in an entertaining way. thank you !

  6. Q: shouldn't you use a scale like on a map like '___=10um' instead of '1000x', because if my display screen is sized differently(phone or TV for example) then it could be innacurate to a degree of magnitudes?

  7. Isn't that just the answer to the question? Heat! Higher temperatures make it jiggle more. Perhaps it's just a very odd sensory organelle to detect things like temperature and pressure of its surroundings, particularly if the crystals have piezoelectric properties and their "bumping" would generate an electric signal corresponding to temperature

  8. 6:03 – 6:38 was the best 35 minutes of my entire life. Watching that thing move and uncoil was the coolest thing I have ever observed and I’m so thankful they left that whole clip in because it was probably just as incredible to them as it was to me.
    (Sorry I’m high)

  9. such good footage. I wish the narration matched quality of the visuals. its not the writing its that voice. It has a very irksome quality to it.

  10. That crystal filled organelle at the tip of the Closterium looks like it would make a fairly accurate thermometer. The higher the temperature, the more excited the Brownian motion, the more collisions with the inner membrane to detect. Yet no one knows what it's for? How is it people could figure out that Müller bodies in Loxodes can detect gravity, but not what those crystal sacs do?

  11. On the barium and calcium sulphate; those microns only have so much room to move in – It would be a thermometer as my first guess, something too hot would prompt the cell to try to escape, or promote quicker circulation.

  12. Beautiful! Given USGS' new study, are you finding any microplastics in your samples? Do they affect the flora in noticeable ways?

  13. 10:19 What is that hole thingy that seems to suck water in inside this ciliate? It's going around and round since the cell is spinning, located about 3/4 down of the cell.

  14. Would love for the bass in your vox to be pushed up just a smidge for that full ASMR effect, great stuff as always from this one though

  15. Hank, this is by far your best series. I hope you and your team keep up the good work! The photography, narration and music are perfect.

  16. Yet another excellent video. Thanks Hank and thank the team behind these.
    You folks are restoring my hope that we will get through these troubling times somehow with our sanity intact.

  17. So glad I stumbled on this channel! My dad owned a really nice microscope but i never saw stuff like this!

  18. i imagne them crystals to slow the wiggel of the water and to absorb the engergy that way usally things just give this wiggeling energy back because they dont move a lot and thats it but i imagne these crystals are like dominos with are a bridge for the heat to convert into motion thats then absorbt by the …. thing wich cooles it down i guess moving a little is better then overheating but also i have no idea just a funny idea that i had

  19. zero-knowledge imaginative speculations on closterium crystals:
    – ballast/orientation? (I just learned about the word statolith)
    – poison against a certain predator?
    – larger collection of closterium crystal somehow makes a closterium a more attractive mate?

  20. Based simply on the facts presented, I am willing to bet 2 bits that the Brownian motion crystals exist within the cell so that the cell can somehow sense the motion of water, microscopic current if you will.

  21. I was way too pleased with myself when I solved the Bronian motion question before Hank revealed it. I felt like the god of all science rather than some guy who watches YouTube videos.

  22. The cell that had crystals that exhibited Brownian Motion is making me think of that phenomenon where crystals collide produce a spark, perhaps its possible that at the micro level the cell is using that as a small energy source?

    I just think its utterly fascinating what your channel has here and I can't thank you enough!

  23. Such an excelent video. I`m a biology profesor in San Luis, a province in Argentina. May I use this videos with my students?

  24. Perhapts the crystals in the cell generate a certain sound when they collide. This sound could deter some other cell species from getting to close to the cell with the crystal.

  25. I'm as slow as a lobster, but confident,
    like the tarantula; all my thoughts, and
    their battery plugs with rubber gloves,
    suspecting the unsuspectable.

  26. A balloon-animal can't be president anymore than a crayon can be a seat.

    The thighs…are for a different world.

  27. Starting at 09:32 First of all, that is an amazing video. Ok, so the Loxodes senses Gravity,… Senses to what? It doesn't have a brain, so how it makes the decision to when to go up or down for oxygen? That is so weird. 😀

  28. The crystals are it's bling, like a gold chain or diamond earrings, when your transparent you gave your jewelry on the inside

  29. Whoever designed these machines basically left us a blueprint how to create and redesign life. Why build nanobots when they already exist? Lets just hack them.

  30. It's amazing how little we still know about microscopic life. I guarantee if you took a sample from any random pond you would find multiple unknown species of bacteria.

  31. Hank is so laid back on this channel compared to his other ones, that I wonder if he's doing a whole load of weed just before doing the voice overs…

  32. Might be neat to do a video on what may be seen with polarization and perhaps optics and such that may allow false-color viewing from other parts of the spectrum. Probably some structures and things that regular imagery may not catch.

  33. This channel is so cool and I'd love for you to somehow collaborate with TierZoo; different tones but both natural science education focused

  34. These lifeforms believe when they die they will ascend to Heaven where their one eyed God 'James' waits to welcome them into paradise. James picks up the slide and wipes with ethanol

  35. Could you do some comparisons between human body cells and this types of cells? That would make for an interesting perspective. Thank you very much for the videos you have made and are going to make . This crew is such a blessing for ones you do not have access to these types of exquisite research.

  36. I don't like when people say that there's so much we don't know cause it referers to what we know we don't know when the actually amazing stuff tends to be what we don't know we don't know and the latter is infinitely bigger than the former.

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