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The Smarts of Slime Mould

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Do you need a brain to think?
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1348650.  Tue May 19, 2020 4:11 pm Reply with quote

[No factful jaunt into the strange realm of 's'es, would be quite complete without a post on this...]

Fact: Slime moulds have mapped out Tokyo's rail system and the UK's major highways. They do it better than humans.

Slime mould looks a little like moving marmalade, but it can solve the most complex of mazes that you or I would struggle with. Despite being essentially a brainless mass of goo, it forms memories and can problem-solve quite readily.

The above fact emerged when scientists presented it with models similar to those found in town planning. A colony was started on some agar gell with small food piles representing cities. The mould then grows to fit the optimum pathway between each, building in resilience measures in case links are broken and arriving always in the shortest possible time. For well-designed human systems, the slime mould will replicate it closely.

It gets even better than that, because there’s a type of slime mould that forms slimy civilizations to ensure its success. Spending most of their life as tiny free-swimming creatures, at certain intervals one will send a signal that causes tens or hundreds of thousands to gather into a large slug-like form. Somehow they coordinate their actions and movements so perfectly that they are able to operate as a single body. The ‘slug’ then transforms into a long stalk with a spore-emitting ball on top. All the slime mould creatures making up the stalk sacrifice themselves to allow those on top to reproduce: insects carry them off as the start of a new generation, and the remarkable life-cycles repeats.

This should be highly implausible if not impossible according to evolutionary theory. Those making up the stalk don't pass on their genes, so lose out as a result of their cooperation. Then again, sea sponges (another 's') can reassemble themselves after being broken down to individual cells. Sometimes these alien animals just get passed off as weird and science doesn't have to answer for it!

1348700.  Wed May 20, 2020 8:16 am Reply with quote

That is both weird and a little creepy!

1348753.  Wed May 20, 2020 6:34 pm Reply with quote

Agreed, Jenny. Pretty fascinating though, in that it makes us re-evaluate much of what we knew (or thought we knew) about intelligence.

1348823.  Thu May 21, 2020 3:01 pm Reply with quote

On another thread in General Banter another poster makes an analogy with how the brain makes decisions - worth reading if you see it.

1373893.  Sun Feb 07, 2021 5:13 pm Reply with quote

Great fact! I believe their communication is called quorum sensing and might have something to do with bioluminescence (maybe the hawaiian bobtail squid?)

1374080.  Tue Feb 09, 2021 6:35 pm Reply with quote

This should be highly implausible if not impossible according to evolutionary theory.

Really? What part of evolutionary theory makes it "implausible if not impossible"?

Those making up the stalk don't pass on their genes, so lose out as a result of their cooperation.

That statement suggests a misunderstanding of evolutionary theory imo.

The frequent misconception of the modern synthesis is that genes drive the organism to reproduce so that they (the genes) can themselves continue their line.

That's not what it says, though.

Genes have a limited shelf-life before they degrade. Given the right environment they can (effectively) make copies of themselves which (effectively) extends their shelf-life. However, they aren't "in the business of" reproducing themselves, or even of extending their own shelf-life. They just exist for what they are.

But, it naturally follows that a gene which has an extended shelf-life is going to be more prevalent and, by our judgement, more successful. The gene itself isn't dancing with joy - it just merrily goes about it's brief existence in the same way as a rock does.

In the example given - there is no "self-sacrifice" involved by the dead cell lines - they're just following the current of nutrients and chemicals. To say that the non-reproduced cell-lines are somehow sacrificing themselves for the good of some ephemeral colony is non-sensical.

Still, slime moulds are indeed a fascinating subject. Just let's not suggest go around suggesting holes in evolutionary theory where non exist (there are enough real holes to worry about).

1374102.  Wed Feb 10, 2021 2:54 am Reply with quote

A bit more info on slime mo(u)lds post 760984.

1375816.  Sat Feb 27, 2021 5:46 pm Reply with quote

A recent BBC Radio programme about the problem-solving abilities of slime mould.


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