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Slime Molds



     Slime Molds are a funguslike single celled organism that uses spores to reproduce.  During part of their life cycle they can appear as a gelatinous “slime” hence the name slime mold.  Slime Molds are found all over the world.  They feed on microorganisms that live in any type of dead plant material. For this reason, these organisms are usually found in soil, lawns and logs.  They are also found on fruits and in the canopy of trees.  Most slime mold are smaller than a few centimeters, but some species may reach sizes of up to several square meters and weigh  up to 30 grams.   They appear in many  colors  such as yellow, brown, pink, orange, purple, red and white. 


     Slime molds begin life as single cells.  They quickly multiply asexually  if they encounter their favorite food.  These amoebae can mate sexually if they encounter the correct mating type and form zygotes which then grow into plasmodia. These contain many nuclei without cell membranes between them, which can grow to be meters in size. The plasmodium grows into an interconnected network of  cytoplasmic filled strands. If one strand is carefully watched for about 50 seconds the strands can be seen to slow, stop, and then reverse direction. These moving strands can reach speeds of up to 1.35 mm per second which is the fastest rate recorded for any micro-organism.  When the food supply diminishes, the strands will move to the surface of the object it is crawling over and through and transform into rigid fruiting bodies. The fruiting bodies or sporangia are what we commonly see, they superficially look like fungi or molds but are not related to the true fungi. These sporangia will then release spores which hatch into amoebae to begin the life cycle again. 


Real World Applications:    

     Since the best city planners around the world have not been able to end traffic jams, scientists are looking to a new group of experts: slime mold.  Recent research has studied the movement of slime molds since they find the quickest most efficient route to the food source.   Check out this video:

                            Slime Design Mimics Tokyo’s Rail System

The researchers placed oat flakes in various spots on a wet surface so that the resulting layout corresponded to the cities surrounding Tokyo. They even added areas of bright light (which slime mold tends to avoid) to correspond to mountains or other geologic features that the trains would have to steer around.  The scientists let the mold organize itself and spread out around these nutrients, and found that it built a pattern very similar to the real-world train system connecting those cities around Tokyo. And in some ways, the amoeba solution was more efficient. The slime mold built its network without a control center that could oversee and direct the whole system; rather, it reinforced routes that were working and eliminated repetitive channels, constantly adapting and adjusting for maximum efficiency.  To take advantage of what nature and evolution have spent millennia perfecting, the researchers fed information about the slime mold’s feeding and growing habits into a computer model, and hope to use it to design more efficient and adaptive transportation networks.  The article describes what researchers discovered about the way the Slime Molds movement mimicked the rails sytem in Tokyo. 


If you have seen something in your mulch that looked liked scrambled eggs or dog vomit the chances are you have seen a slime mold up close but just didn’t know what it was. 


by posted under Uncategorized | 3 Comments »    
3 Comments to

“Slime Molds”

  1. February 4th, 2012 at 1:20 pm       kenyamcgriff Says:

    This is awesome. What do we need to do to make one grow in our area. This would be a great experiment to teach the kids about cells and cell reproduction.

  2. February 5th, 2012 at 1:37 am       gogglegirl Says:

    I am not an expert in slime molds by any means. Apparently they grow everywhere you just have to know where to look. You might contact your closest universities bioliogy department and I am sure they could help with locating some slime molds in your area.

  3. June 8th, 2013 at 7:40 pm       generic2021 Says:

    This is a fantastic post. I just read an article by the BBC about slime molds. Apparently they have some type of external spacial memory that allows them to navigate to different food sources. It is amazing how cool nature can be sometimes. Do you know when/where slime molds were first discovered?


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