Organismal biology

How slime moulds keep track

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    Sticky trails of sugar and protein secreted by slime moulds help the single-celled organisms to find their way, by marking where they have previously travelled.

    Credit: A. DUSSUTOUR

    Christopher Reid at the University of Sydney in Australia and his team found that the slime mould Physarum polycephalum (pictured) — which senses and migrates towards chemical cues such as glucose — avoids its own secretions if possible, preferring to seek food in unexplored areas. When researchers used a U-shaped barrier to trap the creature en route to a glucose snack, 96% of organisms found their way out within 120 hours, mostly by trying untested territory. However, when the entire environment was coated in slime, only 33% of slime moulds reached the goal in that time, and those that did travelled longer distances than organisms in a slime-free setting.

    Slime moulds use their trails to navigate complex environments more efficiently, the team concludes.

    Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA (2012)

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    How slime moulds keep track. Nature 490, 147 (2012) doi:10.1038/490147a

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