Although he doesn’t have a brain or a neuron, the runny fungus, or Physarum polycephalum, is incredibly intelligent and solves complex problems with extreme efficiency. There are tons of different types of fungi in nature, and each one is unique in itself. But one really stands out more than the others. Slime molds, to put it mildly, are an extremely interesting creature.
Striking feature of Slime molds
The fungus above is known as Elaeomyxa Cerifera and usually lives in scattered or small clusters. The sporocarp structures (where the spore oscillates) split in two when the time comes, revealing glittering spores similar to glittering small balls. As a result, the Slime molds is covered with bright colors in shades of purple, green and blue. Not many people have the opportunity to see this striking aspect of a Slime mold in their entire lives. Tasmania is one of the places where the chance is highest with the right equipment.
But we will focus on Physarum polycephalum. This species of yellow unicellular civet fungus is a very good shapeshifter. P. polycephalum can look different depending on where and how it grows: it turns itself into giant yellow lumps when in the forest, or it looks like liquid mustard when under a leaf; if it is placed in a petri dish in the lab, it spreads thinly along the agar plate and branches like a coral. It is of interest that the branching pattern of the chirpy fungus follows the same rule of propagation as lightning, River Delta, neural network, or blood vessel.
It can move!
The name Slime molds may sound deceptive. Because these creatures can actually move on their own and even feed on other single-celled organisms. Because they do all this without having a brain, they are thought to be smarter than humans in some ways.
In the picture above, you can see the chirpy fungus growing on the decaying trunk of a tree. It is bright yellow, and its vein-like appendages allow it to reach food sources. Actually, it’s supposed to be Slime molds, because you’re looking at thousands.
Although slime mold bears its name, of course it is not mold. It is more like amoeba, and it can be said that they consist of single-celled microscopic sacs that move by changing shape.
By merging, they become one body
Runny fungi can exist alone in a single-celled state. But when two or more of these single-celled creatures come together, the cell membranes dissolve, and the cells merge under a single membrane. This means that two runny fungi with their own genetics can exist in the same body. There is no limit to the number of people who can participate in this collective, called the Plasmodium. Because every Slime molds in the collective works for the benefit of the other.
When runny fungi are placed in a new environment, they spread in all directions using a fractal model, assessing the layout of the ground. If they find something useful for themselves, such as food, they open the way. If there’s something they don’t like, like sunlight, they’ll back off.
They do not accept every situation they find themselves in, they choose between the conditions that best suit their survival. It may sound simple, but thanks to these advanced abilities, Slime molds can solve many impressively complex problems.
Problem-solving ability of runny fungus
If you put a few oats (Slime molds’s favorite food) on a map, Slime molds tries to combine the shortest possible paths to oats. Similarly, if you add some obstacles, such as SALT (which the Slime molds do not like), they find creative ways to avoid them. When scientists took a map of the city and placed oats at points representing the busiest places, they saw that the Slime molds mapped the city’s rail system — just as they drew the Tokyo rail system map below. It took human engineers years to map this rail system, and it only took hours for the Slime molds to make the same map.
But Slime molds aren’t just good at designing public transport. They map a maze, find the shortest way to the exit, and keep it in their memory. The Slime molds that find the exit teach it to someone else. Because scientists take a group of Slime molds that dissolve a maze and add another Slime molds, they know that the second Slime molds ends the maze faster.
There are suggestions that the runny fungus is aware of the time. Slime molds does not like cold weather and establishment. The researchers found that the fungus was exposed to wind at the same time every day, and that the creature was smaller and smaller. One day, when the wind stopped, the Slime molds immediately took its former form. On the contrary, it slowed down and brought its growth under control in case it became wind again. This test proved that physarum polycephalum, the brain and nerves, can be learned.
It is still not known exactly how the Slime molds achieved all this. As the civet fungus has been on earth for about 600 million years to one million years (Homo sapiens exist for about 200,000 years), it has a form of intelligence that affects as it is, and is worthy of all numbers.