Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Sci Fi Slime
20 May 2014

Sci Fi Slime

Featureless blobs with a hive mind, slime moulds sound like something straight out of science fiction. One species of these single-cell organisms, called D. discoideum, live solitary lives until times get tough, when they will swarm together into slug-like lumps and roam the landscape looking for food. This new found sense of community even exhibits a sort of self-sacrifice as many individuals die for the greater good to form the long vertical stalk necessary for collective reproduction. Throughout all this shape-shifting a protein scaffold, common to many cells, maintains their form. If this structure is absent, D. discoideum gets even stranger as its membrane becomes distorted, forming long tubes and pearl-like strings (pictured). Despite its bizarre lifestyle, D. discoideum is more than just a scientific curiosity. Its simple structure make it a perfect model organism for inferring general principles that govern various cellular functions such as division and death.

Written by Jan Piotrowski

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