Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index


A cilium (plural cilia) is a fine projection from a eukaryotic cell that

cross-section of two cilia, showing 9+2 structure

constantly beats in one direction. It is structurally identical to the flagellum, but differs in that cilia are much shorter and more numerous.

These structures are found in all animalia except arthropods and nematodes. They are rare in plants occurring most notably in cycads. Protozoans with cilia (ciliates) use them for either locomotion or to simply move liquid over their surface. Most other organisms that have cilia use them only to move liquid over their cell's surface. Cilia are almost never found alone, usually being present on a cell's surface in large numbers that beat in unified waves.

In humans, cilia are found for example in the lining of the windpipe, where they sweep mucus and dirt out of the lungs, and in the oviducts, where they move the ovum from the ovary to the uterus.

The internal structure of a cilium is identical to that of a eukaryotic flagellum, and the terms are often used interchangeably. In general, though, cilia refers to the structures when they are very short, numerous, and coordinated. A cilium has an outer membrane that surrounds a matrix which contains nine microtubules around a central core with two additional microtubules. Biologists refer to this organization as a 9 + 2 structure.