Reproduction for most dinoflagellates is asexual, through simple division of cells following mitosis. They are unusual in that in each cell, the chromosomes remain compact between divisions, instead of stretching out into slender threads, as in most other organisms. The chromosomes are constricted at regular intervals and do not have centromeres, or fiber-attachment centers. There is no spindle, yet the very numerous chromosomes are divided equally at the time of mitosis.
The dinoflagellates are important constituents of plankton, and as such are primary food sources in warmer oceans. Many forms are phosphorescent; they are largely responsible for the phosphorescence visible at night in tropical seas. The phenomenon known as red tide occurs when the rapid reproduction of certain dinoflagellate species results in large brownish red algal blooms. Some of these organisms are highly toxic and can kill fish and shellfish and kill or weaken the animals (including humans) that eat them in their turn or, in some cases, are merely exposed to water containing the organisms.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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