Slime mold isn’t your typical mold. In fact, it isn’t really mold at all. Nor is it an animal, nor is it a plant, nor is it a fungus. In fact, slime mold isn’t much of anything. Yet, it has some remarkable capabilities that both help it survive and make it particularly interesting to researchers.
Slime mold is a single-celled organism that lacks a brain; more specifically, it is a soil-dwelling amoeba. It usually contains multiple nuclei in each organism. Although it doesn’t have a brain, this organism is remarkably crafty and even works together with other organisms to maintain life.
What Does Slime Mold Look Like?
These organisms can come in almost any color except for green since they lack chlorophyll. When combined, they form strange, entrancing shapes. Researchers have found them in honeycomb arrangements, in clusters like blackberries, while others look like a pile of dog vomit. Some slime mold remains microscopic while some grows out-of-control, forming masses as large as 10 to 13 feet in size. This wide, seemingly unpredictable, range of appearances leads many people to confuse slime mold for some other type of organism or fungus.
Intricate Yet Ignored. Should You Disregard It?
Although slime mold is a truly intriguing phenomenon, many people choose to ignore it altogether. It is not consumed for food like some fungi, it can’t be used to build a house, and doesn’t generally destroy property like other molds. So, the organisms are often disregarded by most people. In fact, only those with an interest in researching them often pay any attention. Despite this, slime mold is found all over the world. It particularly likes living on the forest floor and breaks down rotting vegetation while feeding on bacteria and even fungus.
How Does Slime Mold Flourish?
During times with plenty of food, slime mold exists solo as a single-celled organism. However, when food is running low, it teams up with other organisms and grows larger. The hungry amoebas work together to signal each other, and outside amoebas, to join together and form one large mass. This mass moves and changes its form and function in order to survive.
The cells form large stalks with bulbs known as fruiting bodies. These bulbs contain millions and billions of spores which are picked up and spread by the air, passing insects, and animals. This allows the organisms to travel to new locations and again survive as single-celled amoebas. The stalks meanwhile, die off, sacrificing themselves for the survival of the other organisms.
Could Slime Mold Cure Cancer? Or Make New Algorithms?
Researchers are taking special interest in this fascinating organism. In fact, cancer researchers have been examining it due to the fact that it can rapidly divide and expand in the same way even when split in two different parts. Computer scientists on the other hand, are examining the slime mold’s unique and efficient ability to problem solve. Slime mold has been studied as having the ability to solve a maze to reach food. It does this using the least amount of material possible and using the quickest route. This leads programmers to try and learn from nature how to create new and more efficient algorithms. Like many things, we can take a lesson from nature and marvel at the unique properties of this special organism.