The choanoflagellates are a group of free-living unicellular and colonial flagellate eukaryotes considered to be the closest living relatives of the animals. Choanoflagellates are collared flagellates having a funnel shaped collar of interconnected microvilliat the base of a flagellum. They have a distinctive cell morphology characterized by an ovoid or spherical cell body 3–10 µm in diameter with a single apical flagellum surrounded by a collar of 30–40 microvilli (see figure). Movement of the flagellum creates water currents that can propel free-swimming choanoflagellates through the water column and trap bacteria and detritusagainst the collar of microvilli, where these foodstuffs are engulfed. This feeding provides a critical link within the global carbon cycle, linkingtrophic levels. In addition to their critical ecological roles, choanoflagellates are of particular interest to evolutionary biologists studying the origins of multicellularity in animals. As the closest living relatives of animals, choanoflagellates serve as a useful model for reconstructions of the last unicellular ancestor ofanimals.
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