Monday, November 21, 2011

Slime Beneath Our Feet

Slime Mold - New York Times
My fungal friend, Dr. Mark Bower, was kind enough to sent me this article on slime mold from the New York Times.   Reading that sentence probably fills you with envy.  Stay with me as it does get better.

The words slime mold* produce an immediate "Yuck" response but they are actually incredible amoebas that live in the soil.  Some are individual while others collect into masses that are able to communicate and spread in an organized fashion.  A few species can actually develop a slug-like body.

Japanese researchers put slime mold in a maze with food sources at the ends.  The molds extended tentacles down dead ends only to retreat and try another path (video example).  Within four hours they were feasting on the food.

Researcher Andrew Adamatzky has a hobby of challenging them to create highways.  He placed pieces of their food on the largest cities on a map of Spain and Portugal.  The mold spread out, then withdrew, leaving tentacles to these cities which matched the actual existing highways. (video of Tokyo subway example)

"Dog vomit" slime mold- Wikimedia
A species called Dictyostelium form a slug-like society of amoebas which can respond to starvation by crawling out of the soil and sticking to the foot of an animal for transportation.  Some of their component amoeba will even devour pathogenic bacteria that threaten the colony, transporting them outside where they die with the attacker.  This suicidal behavior benefits the colony but not the individual.  The details of these and other stories are in the New York Times article.

You probably wonder how you could find a friend who would send you an article like this.  If you want to find others who find these nature subjects fascinating, look into the Missouri Mycological Society (MOMS)** or other like organizations around the world.  You will find your views of nature extending like...well, you know.... a slime mold.

*   The basics on slime mold are covered in Wikipedia
**  Missouri Mycological Society  or MOMS Springfield Chapter
 2012 research update.  

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