What Has No Brain, 720 Sexes, And the Ability To Self-Heal?!

There’s a brand new organism on display at Le Parc Zoologique de Paris, one that just might win the title of strangest thing in a zoo EVER. Because it’s not an animal. It has no eyes, ears, mouth, or limbs, but it is mobile, it can communicate, it can heal itself and it has nearly 720 biological sexes. It’s *drumroll please*…a slime mold. Affectionately called by some scientists who study it: “le blob.” So what exactly is a slime mold? While its name may lead you toward the fungal section of the tree of life, slime molds are actually protists, belonging to the phylum Amoebozoa. And there are actually two very different kinds of slime molds: cellular and acellular. Cellular slime molds are tiny amoebas that require a microscope to see, but they can clump together into a slimy blob that acts as one whole superorganism. That’s why this kind of slime mold is sometimes called the social amoeba— they like to get together and hang out sometimes under the right conditions. But the one we’re talking about, the one now in the Paris Zoo, is an acellular slime mold whose official name is Physarum polycephalum. This organism still starts as an amoeba but as it continues to grow, the nuclei divide, but the cell does not. It essentially forms into one giant cell, called a plasmodium. Like, this huge yellow moving thing is just one cell, like a giant bag full of lots and lots of nuclei. And it moves its cytoplasm around in eerily vein-like structures, which is actually teaching us quite a lot about cellular transport. So understandably, scientists were pretty confused about how to classify slime molds for a long time. Because like fungi, they have spores. They start out as microscopic spores before ballooning into the slime mold that we can see, and when they get to a certain stage in their life cycle and when their environment becomes unfavorable, they just go POOF, and disintegrate into spores again. Kinda wish I could do that. But unlike fungi, when they’re eating they just swallow stuff whole, instead of releasing enzymes that break stuff down outside their bodies. And another key defining factor that separates slime molds from fungi is that slime molds can really get around, like they are highly mobile, while fungi are quite a bit more stationary. And their adventurous nature is not all that makes them special. Because slime molds are smart. Studies have shown that social amoeba—those cellular slime molds—demonstrate agricultural behavior. They eat bacteria, but instead of eating all the bacteria they find, they sometimes save some for later. They carry that bacteria with them, and then they can plop it down and grow more of it to eat in their new location and to provide for their offspring. Slime molds are farmers, you guys! Which is especially cool because neither cellular or acellular slime molds have brains. And research has shown that acellular slime molds like the one nicknamed “le blob,” demonstrate something like learning. P. polycephalum slime molds can learn how to ignore uncomfortable but harmless chemicals in order to access their food source. This is a process known as habituation. Those organisms can then retain that information during long periods of dormancy and can pass on this knowledge to other slime molds that have never experienced that unpleasant chemical before. Or when a bunch of separate slime molds are cut up and then introduced to each other, they form into one whole mass, which is already crazy. But if just one of those pieces is from a slime mold that was habituated to the unpleasant chemical— then the whole re-formed organism also knows the chemical isn’t harmful. And we honestly don’t know how any of this works. We don’t know the mechanism of action for this cognition, and lots of very brain-centric researchers, like neuroscientists, object to calling it cognition in the first place, so there’s still tons to explore here. And just as icing on the slimy, yellow cake? “Le blob” can have almost 720 sexes. There is no male or female, just hundreds of different possible sex categories. Because remember its ability to spore? Well, those spores are haploid. That means each one contains only half of the necessary genetic information to make a whole slime mold. And that’s just like eggs and sperm in humans. But slime mold spores carry one copy of three different possible sex genes, and each of those genes can come in many different varieties. So, when that haploid sex cell finds its other half, the possibilities with all of those variables involved results in many hundreds of possible options for the sex of the resulting organism. So what’s the coolest part about slime molds to you? Do you want us to cover more aspects of these guys in more detail? Let us know down in the comments, and make sure to subscribe to keep up with more surprising slimy facts. For more microbial magic check out this video on fungal networks over here, and as always, thanks so much for watching. I’ll see you next time.

100 thoughts on “What Has No Brain, 720 Sexes, And the Ability To Self-Heal?!

  1. #Seeker On December 10, scientists will receive the Nobel Prize. Make series videos on Nobel scientific discoveries and biographical introduction that will receive the Nobel Prize
    10 दिसंबर को, वैज्ञानिक नोबेल पुरस्कार प्राप्त करेंगे। नोबेल वैज्ञानिक खोजों और जीवनी परिचय पर श्रृंखला वीडियो बनाएं जो नोबेल पुरस्कार प्राप्त करेंगे

  2. Classic neuroscientists being elitist af. This could seriously give us a clue into the cellular mechanisms of instinct within the brain, after all not unrealistic to draw links between these cells passing on habituation vs neurons learning a behaviour and passing that onto future generations??

  3. im no expert … i just wanna pitch in ….if one nuclei can organize and control complete cell.. this is what might happen if the one same cell has multiple nuclei( more brains)…. and if we can make collaborative ai's like this, this is how god like is formed

  4. 4:45 No, that is not sexes. Instead, sexes is how many categories of other haploid cells that haploid cell could have merged with. If it could have merged with all other haploid cells, then there are no sexes. If itself belonged to one category and it could merge with all haploid cells not belonging to it's own category then there are two sexes, etc, etc.

  5. If the title of this video didn't mention self heal I would say a liberal. Nevermind it is something way way more useful and intellegant slime mold.

  6. Somethings up with this Host she got a overall "shine" and healthyness look on her a few months back and keep getting more and more "energetic".
    Many theories non id share lol

  7. Physarum polycephalum is exactly what I imagine “Space Exploration” is going to be like. The way it moves to find a new food source is how we will move through space. Establishing an “outpost” then exploring around it. Then randomly aim somewhere else and repeat. The nucleus of Physarum polycephalum is effectively Earth; each additional food source would be equivalent to a viable planet which we can inhabit. This will effectively prolong human life, as it prolongs Physarum polycephalum life.

    I’m for hire, in case anyone is interested in using my skill set for scientific work. If interested, reply to this comment for an inquiry.

  8. Can they hurt you? Like what would happen if you fell asleep near where one lived, and it moved onto you in your sleep. Is it an omnivore like us ? This thing is really cool but somehow scary in a Sci Fi way.

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