Digestion and Respiration
In a process known as phagocytosis, amebas engulf their prey, or particles of appropriate size, with their pseudopodia, forming food vacuoles. Digestive enzymes, manufactured and secreted by the organism, are then poured into these vacuoles, and the particles are digested. Useful compounds are subsequently absorbed into the ameba's body. Useless residues remain in the vacuoles and are ultimately expelled (egested) as the vacuole comes in contact with the membrane at the body surface. Amebas can distinguish food (e.g., algae, diatoms, bacteria, and other protozoans) from other material and use different tactics in approaching different food. Freshwater amebas take up water constantly through the process of osmosis, and water content is regulated with a pulsating contractile vacuole. Marine amebas lack a contractile vacuole. Respiration is by diffusion of gases through the cell membrane.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.