It’s official: people have been canceled. If we do not intend to destroy the planet slowly, we will be busy unpleasant to each other online. But in a world that is increasingly devoid of human role models, there are some improbable sources of inspiration.
This story originally appeared on WIRED UK.
Enter The Blob – a yellowish piece of slime mushroom that makes its debut on Saturday in the Paris animal park. With nearly 720 genera and the ability to heal itself in two minutes when cut in half, The Blob (or La Blob, as it is called in France) is surprisingly accomplished for such a simple organism.
And even though they don’t have a mouth, eyes or brain, slime mold can remember things and solve simple problems. Impressive, given that some people hold political office without taking on most of these tasks.
As expected, the Parisian slime mold has already captured the hearts and minds of people around the world. This is why slime mold deserves your respect.
What is it?
This is a tough one. For a long time scientists thought mucous fungi were a kind of fungus because they had similar life cycles and enjoyed hanging out in the dark, moist environments that fungi preferred.
Scientists now think that mucous fungi are closer to amoeba. And like amoebas, mucous fungi consist of a single cell and tend to move by reaching small crawling arm-like limbs called pseudopods.
The Blob – or to give it its more formal name, Physarum polycephalum – belongs to a subset of mucous fungi known as plasmodial mucous fungi. These consist of a single giant cell that contains thousands of nuclei, formed when many individual cells come together. These plasmodial slime molds are particularly useful to help us understand how slime molds work because they are so large that it is easy for scientists to observe and experiment with them.
What tricks can it do?
The Blob attracts a lot of attention because it has nearly 720 genera. In Physarum, sex is determined by a series of different genes that occur in multiple variants. Reproducing mucous fungi by releasing spores that develop into germ cells, and for successful reproduction only two germ cells with different variants of those sex genes meet.
Slime forms can also heal themselves if they are divided in two. Handy if they are entered by a rogue tail fox while exploring a fallen tree trunk in the forest. Despite these superhero-like properties, they usually adhere to a low profile and prefer snacking on bacteria, yeast, and fungi found in decomposing plant material.
So we have nothing to fear from the blob anymore?
You may be beating a slime mold in a fight, but they can surpass you. Although they have no neurons or brains, mucous fungi seem to have memories and learn new things.
Researchers from the French National Center for Scientific Research taught mucous fungi to enter areas they would normally avoid because they contain toxins. This behavior was retained after one year and the wisdom could even be passed on between different cells.
What is strange is that mucous fungi seem to have acquired memory without having the normal biological components that are normally needed to form memories. It raises the question of how learning evolved through evolution, and whether we should extend our definition of cognition to non-humans.
I’m not impressed. What have they ever done for us?
Math. Slime forms have been used to solve a complex problem that is often used to test algorithms. The task is referred to as the salesperson problem, a classic route optimization problem where a computer is asked to look at a list of cities and find the shortest route that every city will visit.
. (tagsToTranslate) Wired UK (t) nature