James Weiss is a linguistic quality assurance software tester, but his true passion is studying single-celled eukaryotes. When he’s not staring at a screen, he films microscopic organisms and shares them on YouTube and Instagram so that he can, in his words, “introduce non-scientific communities to the wonders of the microcosmos.”
But there’s something about one of his latest videos that makes it particularly mesmerising. It documents the death of an organism that Weiss says is a Blepharisma. “I don’t know why this one died but how it dissolves to nothingness just broke my heart,” Weiss writes in the description. “Big or small, life is fragile.”
According to Weiss, at first the membrane melts a little, but the cell tries to recover. A moment later the organism seems to fade into oblivion.
Actually, something’s missing. Oh! Watch it while listening to Allegri’s Miserere. That’s more appropriate.
We found the micro snuff film surprisingly moving. Tragic. Brutal. A teeny life form—having never considered its own existence—simply being. And then not.
Weiss told Gizmodo he spends hours every day looking through a microscope, so seeing cells die is not unusual. “But this one was completely different than the others,” Weiss said. “The way the cell membrane disintegrated and vanished was something completely new to me.”
He has a few theories about why it died. Perhaps it underwent apoptosis, or a programmed cell death when something triggers the release of enzymes that dissolve the proteins and cell membrane, “which leads the complete eradication of the Blepharisma,” he said. He also suggested the death could have been caused by virus that infected the cell and killed the cell so it could be released.
“It is impossible to be sure now what caused the death of this little fella’,” Weiss said. “But watching it disintegrate is definitely something that would give you an existential crisis.”