Can a single-celled organism 'change its mind'? New study says yes

phys.org | 11/22/2019 | Staff
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Once, single-cell life claimed sole dominion over the earth. For some three billion years, unfathomable generations of unicellular organisms ate, grew and reproduced among only each other. They evolved into predators and prey, thrived and spread across the primordial waters and land, and formed complex and dynamic ecosystems in every ecological niche on the planet. Around 600 million years ago, some even crossed the threshold into multicellularity.

Today, however, single-cell organisms are synonymous with notions like primitive and simple. Yet, new research suggests that they may be capable of much more than their very distant human cousins might suspect.

Effort - Experiment - Century - Systems - Biologists

In an effort to replicate an experiment conducted over a century ago, systems biologists at Harvard Medical School now present compelling evidence confirming at least one single-cell organism—the strikingly trumpet-shaped Stentor roeselii—exhibits a hierarchy of avoidance behaviors.

Exposed repeatedly to the same stimulation—in this case a pulse of irritating particles—the organism can in effect "change its mind" about how to respond, the authors said, indicating a capacity for relatively complex decision-making processes.

Results - Current - Biology - Dec

The results are published online in Current Biology on Dec. 5.

"Our findings show that single cells can be much more sophisticated than we generally give them credit for," said corresponding study author Jeremy Gunawardena, associate professor of systems biology in the Blavatnik Institute at HMS.

Researchers - Sophistication - Sense

The researchers say such sophistication makes evolutionary sense.

"Organisms like S. roeselii were apex predators prior to multicellular life, and they are extremely widespread in many different aquatic environments," he said. "They have to be 'clever' at figuring out what to avoid, where to eat and all the other things that organisms have to do to live. I think it's clear that they can have complex ways of doing so."

Decade - Lecture - English - Biologist - Dennis

A decade ago, at a lecture by the English biologist Dennis Bray, Gunawardena was introduced to the work of the prominent...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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