A Physarum polycephalum, nicknamed "the blob", is a single-celled species closely scrutinized by scientists.
CHRISTELLE GARRIC / ZEPPELI / SIPA
For several years, scientists have been looking at the blob, this unicellular being, without a brain, but who can do a lot of things despite everything.
Among his abilities, Toulouse researchers have already shown that through learning he could learn and memorize.
News confirms this possibility that the blob stores memories over short periods of time thanks to its venous system.
It's yellow, it's ugly ... But it fascinates.
The one who has inspired scientists for several years has yet to amaze them with his abilities.
He is “the blob”, neither mushroom, animal, nor even plant, even if the undergrowth is his favorite playground.
This Physarum polycephalum, viscous as possible, is a unicellular species capable of establishing itself by crawling over tens of meters.
But its performance does not end there.
Toulouse researchers have shown that he can learn.
And this since he was on Earth, 500 million years, long before a brain worthy of the name saw the light of day.
Members of the Pink City Animal Cognition Research Center, who pamper several copies of these primitive beings, had already demonstrated that they could communicate and therefore had a kind of memory.
Two German researchers have just hammered home the point of the blob's ability to store memories.
In a study published on
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
, they demonstrate that depending on the presence of nutrients, the small tubes that make up its venous system will see their diameter increase or shrink, "thus imprinting the location" of the food.
It thus has the capacity to store and read memories according to the organization and the diameter of its tubes.
How does a brainless slime mold form and use memories?
I'm happy to share that the results of my main PhD project are now out!
- miRNA Kramar (@mirnakramar) February 23, 2021
And it would be a substance circulating in the venous network that would signal the presence of food in a certain place so that it can react and act accordingly.
Enough to open up avenues for these scientists on new intelligent, bio-inspired materials.
Stigma of the past versus learning
“We had shown that the blob has memory thanks to training, the study by the German team of biophysicists was interested in the venous system.
They demonstrated that the morphology of the network was influenced by the discovery of food, a little as if the blob kept in memory the position of the food, in an ephemeral way, ”explains ethologist Audrey Dussutour, member of the Toulouse Center for Research on animal cognition (CNRS - UPS).
A form of memory, since the network is deformed in relation to a past event, like stigmata.
On the other hand, if he passes through this same carpet of dead leaves one day, he will not be able to remember that in the past he had a good meal there.
On the other hand, we should know soon, if he would like this lunch to be watered or not.
The Toulouse biologist and her team are currently working on her tolerance to alcohol, and more particularly to ethanol.
“There are two Grails in biology to show that you can do things without a brain.
There is learning, that has been demonstrated.
And then there are the phenomena of addiction, which are said to depend necessarily on a nervous system.
We want to try to see if it's true, if our blob can develop addictions, ”enthuses Audrey Dussutour, happy to test the alcoholic capacities of her protege.
She had already tested her propensity to tolerate salt.
And if he didn't like iodine at first, he got used to it eventually.
An adaptability that has allowed it to survive for millions of years.
And which could be used in the future, especially in medical research.
After observing the yellow blob from every angle, Audrey Dussutour decided to look at her pink variant, to see if he had the same abilities as her cousin.
Or if the “yellow jersey” version wasn't the leader of brainless beings for nothing.
The blob, this mystery of nature, a newcomer to the Vincennes zoo
Toulouse: Blobs amaze scientists with their incredible ability to decide (even without a brain)