Physarum polycephalum, literally the "many-headed slime", is a slime mold that inhabits shady, cool, moist areas, such as decaying leaves and logs. Like slime molds in general, it is sensitive to light; in particular, light can repel the slime mold and be a factor in triggering spore growth.
Slime moulds are able to pick paths according to algorithms hardwired into their biochemistry in a way that challenges what we think we know about biological intelligence.
But the truly fascinating part is their ability to sense and rapidly adapt to their environment – a behaviour we might, for lack of a better word, call learning.
If you thought your experience on Tinder was hard, dating for slime moulds is a nightmare. Cells can only mix-and-match their genetic material if each has a compatible set of genes called matA, mat B, and mat C, each with up to 16 variations.
When life is good, they tend to live solitary lives as single cells like amoeba.
On occasion they squish together, forming a wide, branching structure called a plasmodium that can cover several square metres as they search cities to conquer. Well, bacteria to digest at least.
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