Protists exhibit many forms of nutrition and may be aerobic or anaerobic. Photosynthetic protists (photoautotrophs) are characterized by the presence of chloroplasts. Other protists are heterotrophs and consume organic materials (such as other organisms) to obtain nutrition. Amoebas and some other heterotrophic protist species ingest particles by a process called phagocytosis, in which the cell membrane engulfs a food particle and brings it inward, pinching off an intracellular membranous sac, or vesicle, called a food vacuole (Figure 13.14). This vesicle then fuses with a lysosome, and the food particle is broken down into small molecules that can diffuse into the cytoplasm and be used in cellular metabolism. Undigested remains ultimately are expelled from the cell through exocytosis.
Some heterotrophs absorb nutrients from dead organisms or their organic wastes, and others are able to use photosynthesis or feed on organic matter, depending on conditions.