Monday, June 05, 2006

Garden? :: Intelligent Slime

It will come as no surprise to astute MoD visitors that if scientists can teach dust to be smart, that they can find intelligence (or at least its semblance) in surprising places. We at MoD, however, weren’t surprised when we turned up reports of intelligent behaviour in our favourite veg-animal, slime-mold.
We were more surprised that they weren’t new reports (in fact, they’re from 2003!), simply because we thought that we paid a clipping service for the very purpose of drawing attention to items of interest. Well, that’ll be one less strain on the budget in the future. Apparently there was a bit of a boffin-stoush about the whole thing too.

Whatever.

We’ve always known slime-mold was bright. The way it hunts down its food. The way it can look like vomit on the lawn. The way that no one really knows what it is. It’s sneaky. And now there’s proof.

“It sounds like the far-fetched plot of a B-movie: Amorphous slime growing in a lab dish suddenly shows signs of intelligence. But that's exactly what happened recently in a Japanese lab. When researchers put the shape-changing slime mold Physarum polycephalum into a five-inch-square agar gel maze, it filled every available space. But when they added ground oat flakes at the start and finish of the maze, the slime, a single-celled fungus with properties of both plants and animals, began to pull back from the maze's dead ends. In a few hours, its elongated body was stretched along the shortest possible path between the two endpoints. "This remarkable process of cellular computation implies that cellular materials can show a primitive intelligence," write the scientists, led by Toshiyuki Nakagaki of the Bio-Mimetic Control Research Center in Nagoya, Japan, in the September 28 issue of the journal Nature.”
Via This Week in Wild >>

More about intelligent slime
Ameboid Organisms May be More Clever than We'd Thought! By Dr.Toshiyuki Nakagaki >>
The Elegance of Slime Molds By Susan Kaneko Binkley >>
'Emergence' By STEVEN JOHNSON >>
Spy's Spice has a post with delicious pictures >>

Of course the thing that all this talk of clever slime has reminded us of is the New Zealand actor Sam Neill’s greatest moment, as the hapless husband replaced by a piece of slime in Possession (1981). We watch that movie over and over here at MoD. It has the gritty realism of cinema-verite combined with the psychological subtlety of Fellini.

“This bizarre oddity was a film that nobody quite knew what to make of it when it came out, but is one that has steadily been gaining ground as a weird headspace classic ever since. Quite what it is about could be anybody's guess. It is filled with bizarre events that are delivered at a pitch of histrionic melodramatics. Variously:- Sam Neill tries to slash his wrists with an electric breadknife over his marriage breakup and then finds a perfected twin of Adjani in the schoolteacher Anna; she after about five minutes of wailing and vomiting in a subway tunnel gives birth to a tentacled monster that she spends the rest of the film fucking (it later turns into a twin of Neill). A pair of detectives with pink socks wander through the film. In the end Neill and Adjani's son tries to drown himself in the bath, before everything ends in the flash of a nuclear detonation. All of this bizarreness is considerably aided by director Andrzej Zulawski's demented visual style”
POSSESSION >>

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