Biologists have figured out how the “brain” of slime molds works. The key role in its work is played by ion channels in the membrane of mold cells.
Scientists have been studying Physarum polycephalum mold for many years. Despite the fact that this organism lacks a brain or its semblance, it is capable of performing actions that, in the opinion of a person, only a rational being is capable of. The study of this phenomenon will allow scientists to learn more about the basics of the brain activity of living beings, including the person himself.
Physarum polycephalum itself is a very unusual living organism. As you know, this is not a mushroom, not an animal, and at the same time, not a plant. This living creature belongs to the group of protists – all forms of life that do not belong to the above three groups. This form of life is found in dark and humid places, such as forest floor. There she processes organic matter, and then returns it back to the food chain.
Physarum begins life as a multitude of individual cells, each with its own nucleus. They later merge to form Plasmodium. In fact, it is a large single cell that contains billions of nuclei floating in the cytoplasmic fluid.
It is at this stage of life that Physarum polycephalum exhibits curious behavior. Scientists have observed how this organism overcomes labyrinths and memorizes new substances for several months. He can also remember places where he previously found food, and share memories with other cells of his kind. The authors of the new study note that this is incredible for an organism that does not have a brain or nervous system.
After analyzing changes in the structure of mold cells, scientists found that unicellular organisms made this decision due to the ability to remotely “feel” objects and determine their approximate shape. They know how to do this thanks to the many ion channels in the cell membrane. Their activity can vary depending on how much the mucus membrane is stretched under environmental pressure.
Then the scientists tested what would happen if the ion channels were blocked. This deprived the slime molds of memory: after that, they began to grow evenly in all directions, without taking into account information about the appearance of the environment and knowledge about the structure of the labyrinth.