Slime Mold Named to College Faculty

Calling your professors names is not considered the best way to get an A in science class, but calling one teacher a slime mold is just a description. Physarum Polycephalum has been named as a visiting scholar at Hampshire College in Massachusetts. It has its own webpage, office (in a dark basement), and office hours. A recent symposium held to present the slime mold's work featured wine and cheese for the humans and oats for the slime mold. From the faculty page:

Physarum Polycephalum, a plasmodial slime mold, researches important problems from a non-human perspective, and enhances intellectual life on campus by helping students and colleagues to think about the world without human biases.

The visiting scholar at Hampshire is not on a tenure track. But the stunt highlights the amazing things that slime molds can do.

Slime molds are not actually molds. They’re much more like amoebas — single-celled microscopic sacs that move around by altering their shape.

Slime molds can exist as free-floating single cells. But when two or more slime mold cells meet, they dissolve the cell membranes that separate each individual and fuse together in one membrane. That means two individuals, with individual genetics, can exist within the same body. And there’s no limit to the number of individuals that can join the collective, called a plasmodium. Each cell of the slime mold is making decisions that ultimately benefit the whole collective.

When slime molds are placed in a new environment, they’ll spread out in every direction in a fractal pattern, assessing the lay of the land. If they find something beneficial to them, like food, they’ll reinforce the pathway. If they find something they don’t like — like direct sunlight — they’ll recoil.

It sounds simple, but through this process, slime molds can solve an impressively complex array of problems.

Slime molds can solve mazes, draw maps, and keep track of time, all without a brain or a nervous system. Read more about the remarkable slime mold at Vox. -via Metafilter

(Image credit: Ray Mendel/Hampshire College)

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