This Pulsating Slime Mold Comes in Peace (ft. It’s Okay to Be Smart)
About Slime Molds
Flip over a rotting log and chances are you’ll see a goopy streak stuck to the wood. If you were to film this goop and play the video back in high speed, you’d see something that might remind you of the 1950s sci-fi classic “The Blob:” a jelly-like creature pulsating in a strange way, a little bit forward, a little bit back, spreading and searching for something to devour.
But this creature isn’t intent on world domination. It’s a slime mold, a very simple organism that is neither plant, nor animal, nor fungus. Unlike the cells of other living beings, which have only one nucleus that carries their genetic information, slime molds can organize into something like a cell with thousands of nuclei. Slime molds may move slowly, but they excite scientists by their ability to get a lot done with very little.
Researchers at the University of California San Diego and UC Davis have been focusing their attention on how slime molds get around, in the hope of inspiring a new generation of soft-bodied robots with medical applications.
Slime molds don’t have legs or any appendages. They eat bacteria and tiny fungi. And they move just by changing their shape.
“It’s intriguing to understand how they can move when they’re softer than the environment,” said UC San Diego engineer Juan Carlos Del Alamo. “The absence of limbs makes it a difficult problem.”
Slime mold’s locomotion is triggered by a chemical reaction. In the lab, Del Alamo and his colleagues cut off small pieces of a bright yellow slime mold called Physarum polycephalum and put them under a microscope. They watched each piece squeeze itself. This contraction is triggered by tiny calcium ions flowing inside it. The slime mold contracts its wall, then sloshes to move the calcium ions back so that they can trigger another contraction – at least that’s the researchers’ hypothesis.
What are slime molds?
Let’s start with what they’re not. They can stand upright and produce spores. But they’re not fungi or plants. When they’re hungry, they spread across the forest chasing food such as tiny fungi or bacteria. But they’re not animals.
Where are slime molds often found?
Slime molds are often found under rotting logs. You can also order the bright yellow slime mold in our video, Physarum polycephalum, from biological supplies companies. They’re fun to grow at home.
What do slime molds eat?
In nature, slime molds eat tiny fungi and bacteria. When they’re grown in the lab, researchers feed them oats.
Read the entire article on KQED Science: https://ww2.kqed.org/science/2016/04/19/this-pulsating-slime-mold-comes-in-peace/