Term of Award

Spring 2005

Degree Name

Master of Science in Biology

Document Type and Release Option

Thesis (open access)


Department of Biology

Committee Chair

Alan Harvey

Committee Member 1

Bruce Schulte

Committee Member 2

Daniel Gleason

Committee Member 3

Stephen Vives


Spontaneous alternating behavior (SAB) describes the tendency of an organism to spontaneously select the unfamiliar direction in a two choice situation. Paramecium is the only microscopic genus in which SAB has been studied. The two earlier studies regarding SAB in Paramecium have come to conclusive, but diametrically opposed results. Designing a single new experiment that incorporates the critical differences in the designs of both studies may help to clarify the results from these earlier studies, and provide an excellent opportunity to better understand the factors that influence SAB.

The overall objective of this research project was to determine whether or not SAB exists in two previously studied species of paramecia (Paramecium caudatum and Paramecium multimicronucleatum). Specifically, the study determined whether: 1) maze length or species identity influence the expression of SAB in paramecia; 2) the mechanism that resulted in SAB in short mazes in the earlier experiment was intrinsic or extrinsic in nature; and 3) there were differences in swimming ability between Paramecium caudatum and P. muItimicronucleatum.

SAB occurred in short mazes in both species of Paramecium; and maze length influenced the occurrence of SAB in both species. The number of contacts in P. caudatum support the use of an extrinsic mechanism to show SAB. Both species of Paramecium displayed similar swimming ability (speed and number of contacts on each side of the maze). This experiment further clarified the diametrically opposed findings of the two earlier studies on SAB in Paramecium, that is, Lepley and Rice (1952) found SAB because they used shorter mazes, and Lachman and Havelena (1962) did not find it because they apparently used mazes that were too long.


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