Slime Molds Remember—But Do They Learn?

WIRED | 7/14/2018 | Katia Moskvitch
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Slime molds are among the world’s strangest organisms. Long mistaken for fungi, they are now classed as a type of amoeba. As single-celled organisms, they have neither neurons nor brains. Yet for about a decade, scientists have debated whether slime molds have the capacity to learn about their environments and adjust their behavior accordingly.

Original story reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine, an editorially independent publication of the Simons Foundation whose mission is to enhance public understanding of science by covering research developments and trends in mathematics and the physical and life sciences.

Audrey - Dussutour - Biologist - France - National

For Audrey Dussutour, a biologist at France’s National Center for Scientific Research and a team leader at the Research Center on Animal Cognition at Université Paul Sabatier in Toulouse, that debate is over. Her group not only taught slime molds to ignore noxious substances that they would normally avoid, but demonstrated that the organisms could remember this behavior after a year of physiologically disruptive enforced sleep. But do these results prove that slime molds—and perhaps a wide range of other organisms that lack brains—can exhibit a form of primitive cognition?

Slime molds are relatively easy to study, as protozoa go. They are macroscopic organisms that can be easily manipulated and observed. There are more than 900 species of slime mold; some live as single-celled organisms most of the time, but come together in a swarm to forage and procreate when food is short. Others, so-called plasmodial slime molds, always live as one huge cell containing thousands of nuclei. Most importantly, slime molds can be taught new tricks; depending on the species, they may not like caffeine, salt or strong light, but they can learn that no-go areas marked with these are not as bad as they seem, a process known as habituation.

Dussutour - Organisms - Capacity

For Dussutour, “that such organisms have the capacity to...
(Excerpt) Read more at: WIRED
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