A mysterious, self-healing slime organism is now on display at a zoo in Paris
It thinks, it moves, it's nigh indestructible. It's 'The Blob!' No, no, this isn't referring to the 1958 horror movie. This is the real thing. Formally known as Physarum polycephalum, this fungus-looking yellow slime mold is actually a single-celled organism like the amoeba. It's neither plant, bacteria, fungus, or animal. It has no brain, eyes, limbs, or mouth. But, somehow, it can travel very slowly to spread on forest logs while eating mushroom spores and microbes. And now, a zoo in Paris will feature this fascinating organism at its own special exhibit.
"The blob is a living being which belongs to one of nature’s mysteries," said Bruno David, the director of the Paris Museum of Natural History, to Reuters. "We know for sure it is not a plant but we don’t really [know] if it’s an animal or a fungus. It behaves very surprisingly for something that looks like a mushroom ... it has the behavior of an animal, it is able to learn."
P. polycephalum will be featured in an exhibit at the Paris Zoological Park from October 19 to November 3. The zoological park is part of the Paris Museum of Natural History and this is the first time the zoo has ever made a display to spotlight a creature like this.
According to ScienceAlert, the yellow slime is actually a bunch of the single-celled organisms squishing together to travel and search for food. The blob has no nervous system or brain, but has displayed behavior that resembles learning and intelligence. It has passed experiments such as 'finding' the quickest path out of a maze. It has used the same pathing skills to (very slowly) figure out a computational problem, known as the 'Traveling Salesman Problem,' that became more difficult as parts of it were solved. It knows how to avoid substances it isn't familiar with, such as caffeine or salt. Most astonishingly, it can also learn how to adapt to new things by fusing together with other blobs.
"It surprises us because it has no brain but is able to learn," explained David to The Guardian, "and if you merge two blobs, the one that has learned will transmit its knowledge to the other."
For example, you can cut the slime in half into two groups. Group A is fed oatmeal with copious amounts of salt. Group B eats plain oatmeal. If you give Group B oatmeal with salt, the blob either tries to avoid it or is hesitant to try it. But if you combine the groups together, the information from Group A ('the salt is safe') merges with Group B, and the slime will collectively eat the food as if it was used to eating food with salt.
It's astonishing stuff for something that doesn't have a brain. Researchers that tested P. polycephalum with an experiment similar to the example above came to the conclusion that the blob was proof that there were different ways for creatures to process information and adjust their behavior. A brain or central nervous system isn't necessarily a must-have.
The blob's genetic material is so varied that the species possesses over 700 sexes. "Reproduction is not a problem" with that much genetic diversity, stated the zoo on its website. And it's nearly immortal; if you cut at the slime-like material, it can "self-heal in two minutes." It also has a knack for survival. In another experiment, scientists microwaved the organism, then added water to the dried out leftovers. Within moments, the blob was revived and ready to eat and grow again.
Researchers have made lab-grown blobs up to 33 feet (10 meters) wide. There's currently no known limit to the size of P. polycephalum, but we'll probably know about it if it ever becomes big enough to ooze into the streets and start eating humans. Until then, visitors to Paris Zoological Park can enjoy a safe and educational exhibit that showcases this mysterious, weird, and amazing organism.