Secret Mind of Slime: Meet slime molds: the brainless blobs that can learn, make decisions, and navigate mazes. Who says you need brains to be smart? Extremely primitive life-forms called slime molds can navigate mazes, choose between foods, and create efficient networks—no brain required. New research on these organisms, which are neither plant nor animal, could help reveal the fundamental rules underlying all decision making.
Slime mold is an informal name given to several kinds of unrelated eukaryotic organisms with a life cycle that includes a free-living single-celled stage and the formation of spores. Spores are often produced in macroscopic multicellular or multinucleate fruiting bodies which may be formed through aggregation or fusion. They were formerly classified as fungi but are no longer considered part of that kingdom. Although not forming a single monophyletic clade, they are grouped within the paraphyletic group Protista.
They feed on microorganisms that live in any type of dead plant material. They contribute to the decomposition of dead vegetation, and feed on bacteria and fungi. For this reason, slime molds are usually found in soil, lawns, and on the forest floor, commonly on deciduous logs. In tropical areas they are also common on inflorescences and fruits, and in aerial situations. In urban areas, they are found on mulch or in the leaf mold in rain gutters, and also grow in air conditioners, especially when the drain is blocked.
Secret Mind of Slime
Slime may not be the first thing that comes to mind when we think about the evolution of the planet, but this slimy substance has played a vital role in shaping the world as we know it. From the formation of the first multicellular organisms to the creation of complex ecosystems, slime has been a crucial part of the story of life on Earth.
More than 900 species of slime mold occur globally. Their common name refers to part of some of these organisms’ life cycles where they can appear as gelatinous “slime”. This is mostly seen with the Myxogastria, which are the only macroscopic slime molds. Most slime molds are smaller than a few centimetres, but some species may reach sizes up to several square metres and masses up to 20 kilograms.
The Emergence of Multicellular Life
One of the most exciting discoveries in the field of evolution is the role that slime played in the emergence of multicellular life. Scientists have discovered that simple single-celled organisms, such as bacteria, began to stick together and form colonies as a way to protect themselves from the environment. Over time, these colonies evolved into complex multicellular organisms that could adapt and survive in a wider range of conditions.
This is where slime played a critical role. The slimy substance provided a protective barrier for the cells, allowing them to stick together and form larger and more complex structures. This allowed multicellular organisms to evolve, which in turn paved the way for the development of more complex life forms, including plants and animals.
The Formation of Ecosystems
Another fascinating aspect of the role that slime played in the evolution of the planet is the creation of ecosystems. Scientists have discovered that slime can provide a habitat for a variety of microorganisms, including bacteria and fungi. These microorganisms then interact with each other, forming complex relationships that are essential for the functioning of ecosystems. For example, some bacteria use them to protect themselves from predators, while others use it as a way to exchange nutrients and communicate with each other. This interaction between microorganisms and their environment is what allows ecosystems to thrive and support a diversity of life.
From the formation of multicellular life to the creation of complex ecosystems, the role that slime has played in the evolution of the planet is truly remarkable. Although it may not be the most glamorous substance, slime has had a profound and lasting impact on the world we live in today. Whether we realize it or not, the power of slime has shaped the course of life on Earth and continues to play a vital role in the survival of countless species.