Anyone remember hearing the story of the otherwise healthy baby born without a brain in 2008?
Or what about the story revealing that the cast of Jersey Shore made more money in one television season than the President makes in an entire year?
Well, if you take comfort in knowing that the possession of higher brain function is not necessary for survival in this world, then this is the story for you!
As it did with the creation of the Kardashians and the verdict in the Casey Anthony trial, Nature seems to have defied all concept of…well, itself…as the details concerning the discovery of a “remarkably intelligent” slime mould surface today.
According to Australian scientists and researchers, a slime mould that uses a “form of spatial ‘memory’ to navigate, despite not having a brain” has been discovered. The yellowish organism, known as Physarum polycephalum (pictured above), emerged the undeniable victor when it successfully navigated through a maze, made by PhD student Christopher Reid, in order to get to a food source.
“The whole organism is made up of bits of pulsating tissue, which are constantly expanding and contracting, using a similar mechanism to our own muscle cells,” explained Mr Reid, “Each part changes the speed at which it pulsates according to what it can sense in the environment around it – for example food, light or heat – which are detected by chemical receptors on the cell’s surface…The pulsating parts are also influenced by the throbbing of their neighbours within the cell, which means that they can communicate with each other, to pass information through the organism about what is happening in the environment outside. The different speeds of contraction directly influence which direction the cell will then move in.”
Creepy…but also pretty badass as the findings mark the first recording of ‘memory‘ within an organism devoid of a brain or central nervous system.
The individuals who observed the slime’s journey likened it to that of Hansel and Gretel’s path made of bread crumbs: as the organism moved throughout the maze, it left behind a trail of slime that it then recognized as an area which it had already explored and, thus, an area to be avoided:
“In essence, the slime mould is memorising where it has been – storing this memory in the external environment and recalling the information when it later touches the slime-coated area,” said Mr Reid.
So, what’s the next step in the study of memory as it pertains to Physarum polycephalum?
Reid tells BBC Nature that further research will now focus on what other information the slime trail may hold:
“For a single-celled organism, it has continually surprised researchers with its abilities, such as solving mazes, anticipating periodic events, and even making irrational decisions like we do…it is truly a remarkable creature that is redefining our notions of ‘intelligence’“
…and to think that this whole time I thought that’s what butt-chugging was doing…
You know the drill: it’s your turn to speak, Nation!
Do you think the discovery of a single-cell organism able to utilize ‘memory’ is worth researching?
Or has nature made weirder and more impressive things than an ‘intelligent’ mould?