The Bestiary

Run, Don’t Walk from… the Slime Mold?

Recent research on slime molds shows that they can make complex decisions about nutrition

February 11, 2010

Slime molds have been popping up in the news quite a bit lately. A few weeks ago, they made headlines by mimicking the Japanese rail system. Now, a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that slime molds can make complicated choices about the amount and variety of nutrients they eat.

It might not seem like a big deal that an organism—whether mold, mouse, or man—can make complex decisions about how to feed itself. That seems like a pretty fundamental skill for any living thing, right?

Wrong.

You see, slime molds have no brains. These amoeboid creatures have no specialized center dictating all their actions.  So, as they spread across a landscape, they have no ‘mission control’ to which to report their nutritional requirements.

In the recent study, scientists placed 11 different foods around the outside of a Petri dish, each with a different protein-to-carbohydrate ratio. They then plopped a slime mold into the center of the dish. The researchers found that the slime mold altered its growth pattern and migrated to contact the foods that provided it with the best proportion of nutrients.  That’s a pretty great feat of coordination for a blob without a brain.

Speaking of which, the last time a slime ball got this much attention, The Blob was sweeping through 1950’s drive-ins.  For now, I wouldn’t be worried—there have been no reports of bloodthirsty slime molds terrorizing quaint suburban neighborhoods.  But don’t underestimate the slime—it’s smarter than you think.

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About the Author

Anna Rothschild is a producer and science writer from New York City. After graduating from Brown University with a degree in biology, she worked as a scientist at the American Museum of Natural History where she cloned humpback whale genes into bacteria, lassoed lizards in Floridian forests, and detected fraud in the caviar trade. Now, she reports on everything from life science, to space, to urban legends.

Discussion

1 Comment

Today, while I was at work, my cousin stole my iPad and tested to see if it can survive a 25 foot drop, just so she can be a youtube
sensation. My iPad is now destroyed and she has 83 views.
I know this is completely off topic but I had to share it with someone!

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