Seldom do protists show up in public places (as man-made creations; plenty of them thrive happily unseen), especially those who reside where the sun don?t shine: the hindgut of wood-eating termites and cockroaches. There, they perform a function glorious for the termite or roach, but often annoying (or devastating) to us ? they digest cellulose from wood. Furthermore, they sustain a thriving ecosystem of various symbiotic bacteria, and loitering protists of uncertain employment (as in, we hardly know what they eat or do). Besides being ecologically and practically interesting, these gut denizens also exhibit some stunningly elaborate morphologies: for example these parabasalid specimens here. Oh, and many of them lack conventional mitochondria, instead relying on reduced and modified forms such as hydrogen-producing hydrogenosomes (which get quickly surrounded by hydrogen-hungry methane-producing archaeans). In short, the termite and roach gut communities are awesome.
Luckily, a sampling of the alien world has been recently unveiled as a permanent exhibit at the San Francisco Exploratorium. Kevin Carpenter, a former member of the Keeling Lab (responsible for quite a bit of termite gut research), is notable for being exceptionally skilled with Scanning Electron Microscopy of protists. You can find some images from the exhibit on his site. It appears that the Exploratorium seems to have a live exhibit of termites and their denizens. So if you happen to be in the Bay Area, be aware that there is now a place to pay homage to some of the few eukaryotes who can digest hardly-edible cellulose.
Here?s a shrunken sample of the documented alien world ? a Saccinobacculus (?snake-in-a-bag?) with a bacteria-laden butt of Barbulonympha in the background. Click on? either of them for a further journey in the termite (and roach) gut!