Mind Bomb 12: Slime mould

Mind Bomb 12: Slime mould

The making of this Mind Bomb was inspired by a chat with my friend regarding the efficiency of our MRT system. For those not from Singapore, it's an acronym for Mass Rapid Transit, a series of train networks that span across our country.

Much forward planning must have been done for the MRT system, with implementation hugely expensive, and corrections even more so. But are humans the only one who can accomplish such a feat? Apparently not. In fact, a SINGLE CELL organism can do it.

Its scientific name is Physarum polycephalum, sometimes referred to as the Yellow Slime or simply the slime mould. It is one of many under the category of Myxogastria and can be found in many places such as decaying logs and people's bathrooms, like this time-lapse video below.

The slime mould is an incredible life form which makes it to the Mind Bomb list because it exhibits what we call "intelligence". I will only be touching on this specific aspect, but if you want to learn more about it, click here.

By definition, intelligence is the capacity for learning, reasoning, understanding, and similar forms of mental activity; aptitude in grasping truths, relationships, facts, meanings, etc.

While we are not unsure regarding the latter part, the slime mould has surprised many with their actions, which can be interpreted as being done with reasoning, understanding, and ability to learn.

Here are some behaviours that the Physarum polycephalum exhibits:

  • Ability to anticipate environmental changes
  • Ability to create the most efficient network possible when attempting to receive nutrients from more than two sources.
  • Ability to use the shortest route possible to exit a maze

The first one is the most interesting to me, as it may have (or already had) been used in city planning.

In 2010, Atsushi Tero from Hokkaido University experimented with the Physarym polycephalum to find ways of improving the transport network in Japan. He duplicated the layout of the area around Tokyo by placing small pieces of oat around a "map", with the bits of oat representing 36 towns surrounding Tokyo. And as the slime mould avoided bright light, light was used to stimulate mountains, lakes, and other areas in which a train network cannot be feasibly established.

The slime mould first spreads out in search of nutrition sources, once detected, it then skillfully creates the most effective network of tunnels that spread the nutrients equally throughout its stretched single-celled body.

The ending result is strikingly similar to the current Tokyo rail system, with similar results having replicated with other train systems, as such USA and UK.

Indeed, it seems that one does not need a mind to understand what it needs to do to survive, and that life, or intelligent life, can be achieved in more ways than we think.

I would truly love to have the chance to do a similar experiment to compare the layout of Singapore's MRT system with what the Physarum polycephalum states is most efficient for their survival.