The key to an organism's ability to learn is wired in their brain, but a recent discovery baffles scientist - why can a brainless slob which also lives with no nervous system has the ability to learn and even retain the learned knowledge?
is a slime mold that is yellowish in color. Like common slime molds, physarum
thrives in a cool and shady area like in decaying logs and rotting leaves. This creature is not classified as an animal, plant nor a fungus - its classification falls into a one-celled organism of a taxonomic group of amoebozoa
Physarum polycephalum by French National Centre for Scientific Research
The team of French researchers has discovered that the single-celled, nasty slime, demonstrated habituation which is a learned behavior
. The Physarum polycephalum
are divided into three groups and are kept in a sort of maze using agar bridges which are treated with caffeine, quinine or sometimes nothing at all for nine days.
The bridges function as a cross over for the food access. Caffeine and quinine are unfamiliar and unpalatable to the Physarum.
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The first two groups were not budging not until the end of the sixth day. They are crossing the bridges as fast as the control group. Learning to overcome a dangerous or harmless substance after repeated exposure is one of the basic manifestation of a learned 'habituation' not previously detected in amoebozoa
Audrey Dussutour, one of the researchers said, "We were astonished to find out that the slime mold could learn without a brain or nervous system!”
To take another step further, the researchers established another set of experiment to find out how learning is facilitated through interactions among themselves in these brainless slobs. Using the bridge method, 2000 slobs are habituated to salt while the other group are naive to it. As they were all placed in the area together to force an interaction, two slobs' membrane touching caused a fusion.
The evidence that the fusion allowed them to share information is when the naive slob have shown to have gained the same learned habituation when the naive slob managed to cross over and learned that the salt is non-toxic. The process is repeated to the newly learned slobs which will in turn teach another group of naive slobs.
The researchers found out that the duration of the membrane-touching or fusion will affect how the Physarum
can retain the learned information. The longer the fusion occurred, the longer the retention of the information. Otherwise, the slob will return to its naive state.
If this brainless slob can retain information, I wonder if somehow there is something in the single-celled slime that functions like a brain - something that is similar to what was recently discovered in human brains that works like a virtual clipboard which is the state before forgetting