Straight out of the plot of a wild, high-tech science fiction tale comes this news account of research in Japan concerning amoeboid yellow slime mold and its connection to human intelligence.
If thoughts of a giant blob of slime racing down the streets of downtown Tokyo and swallowing up everyone in its murderous path fills your brain as you read this, fear not. You are not alone.
The scientists believe their research holds the key to the mechanism behind human intelligence and that by harnessing that data, they will be able to design bio-computers capable of solving highly complex problems.
There is a definite brilliance to what others may interpret as their madness. The scientific agenda is focused on the slime’s cells, which appear to be able to process and optimize the growth pattern of the mold. These cells also avoid those forces that may damage them, such as light.
“The cells create the most direct root through a maze to a source of food … Humans are not the only living things with information-processing abilities … Simple creatures can solve certain kinds of difficult puzzles … If you want to spotlight the essence of life or intelligence, it’s easier to use these simple creatures,” said Toshiyuki Nakagaki from his laboratory in Hakodate, on Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido.
Yellow slime has been on planet for thousands of years, surviving on bacteria, decaying leaves and logs. Its ability to navigate a maze without a brain suggests a transport network design that scientists can learn much from.
The scientific community awarded Nakagaki the Ig Nobel award in both 2008 and 2010, which is designed to “first make people laugh and then make them think.”
Despite the obvious parody to the coveted Nobel prize, it would appear that our man in Japan, according to his colleagues, is right on target to discovering the origins of intelligence.
Slime molds can create much more effective networks than even today’s most sophisticated technology.
“Computers are not so good at analyzing the best routes that connect many base points because the volume of calculations becomes too large for them…but slime molds, without calculating all the possible options, can flow over areas in an impromptu manner and gradually find the best routes … Slime molds…can flexibly adjust themselves to a change of the environment and can create networks that are resistant to unexpected stimulus,” said Atsushi Tero from Kyushu University, in western Japan.
Slime mold networks can be utilized to design future transport systems or electric transmission lines. They can include detours to avoid power outages.
In true sci-fi fashion, researchers hope to duplicate the mechanism of the human brain with slime molds.
If that’s not enough to make you want to change the channel, remember that you are not watching a movie. You are a witness to the truest example of life imitating art.
Maybe rent that old 1950s flick The Blob and see if you can ever get a good night’s sleep again.
Sweet dreams, dear readers.