by Piter Kehoma Boll
What would you think if I told you that a slime can think and even solve small puzzles? You would probably take it as an April fool’s joke, but it’s true!
Our newest fellow comes from an yet unexplored kingdom in our Fridays, the kingdom Amoebozoa. Its name is Physarum polycephalum, sometimes called the many-headed slime. It is a slime mold that lives in decaying leaves and logs in forests all over the world.
If you enter a forest during a rainy season, you may be able to find some of them growing on decaying matter. They look like network of slimy yellow veins and move very slowly, looking for food, which consists of microorganisms such as bacteria or even fungal spores.
This network phase is called plasmodium, the slime mold’s vegetative stage, during which it is active and grows, moving around in search for food. The plasmodium consists of a large syncytium, i.e., a group of cells fused together becoming something like a big cell with several nuclei.
If the environment gets too dry, the plasmodium will dissecate and become a sclerotium, a hardened dormant phase. If the food supply runs out, it will develop into the reproductive stage, where it stops to move and produces spores, which will be released in the environment. Once the conditions are favorable, the spores will germinate and release several cells that fuse to become a new plasmodium.
The many-headed slime is very easy to be maintained in a lab, so it has become a model organism. Several recent studies have shown that it is a formidable creature. It exhibits some behavioral responses indicating an intelligence similar to that of eusocial insects. It seems to have some sort of external memory, enabling it to avoid previously visited sites, and is even able to solve some basic puzzles, such as the shortest path problem, and anticipate periodic events. Also, it may be able to detect and differentiate colors.
There are even attemps to find a way to use it as a substrate to make bio-computers! The many-headed slime is certainly an amazing fellow!
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References and Further Reading:
Adamatzky, A. 2013. Towards slime mould colour sensor: Recognition of colours by Physarum polycephalum. Organic Electronics, 14(12): 3355-3361. DOI: 10.1016/j.orgel.2013.10.004
Becchetti, L.; Bonifaci, V.; Dirnberger, M.; Karrenbauer, A.; Mehlkorn, K. 2013. Physarum can compute shortest paths: convergence proofs and complexity bounds. Automata, Languages and Programming, 7996: 472-483
Caleffi, M.; Akyldiz, I. F.; Paura, L. 2015. On the solution of the Steiner Tree NP-Hard problem via Physarum BioNetwork. IEEE/ACM Transactions on Networking 23(4): 1092-1106. DOI: 10.1109/TNET.2014.2317911
Nakagaki, T.; Yamada, H.; Tóth, A. 2000. Intelligence: Maze-solving by an ameboid organism. Nature, 407: 470. DOI: 10.1038/35035159
Saigusa, T.; Tero, A.; Nakagaki, T.; Kuramoto, Y. 2008. Amoebae anticipate periodic events. Physical Review Letters, 100: 018101. DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.100.018101
Wikipedia. Physarum polycephalum. Available at: < https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Physarum_polycephalum >. Access on March 30, 2016.