Research

Cilia use different motors for different tasks

Molecular motors

This paramecium uses cilia for movement and for harvesting nutrients. Researchers have found that cilia in the same organism may operate at different speeds under certain conditions, animated by different molecular motors. Credit: Valles lab/Brown University

Cilia — short, hair-like fibers — are widely present in nature. Single-celled paramecia use one set of cilia for locomotion and another set to sweep nutrients into their oral grooves. Researchers at Brown have discovered that those two cilia sets operate at different speeds when the viscosity of the environment changes. That suggests different molecular motors driving them, which could help explain how cilia have come to be used for so many different tasks in nature.