How a blobby, brainless, bright yellow slime mold is redefining our understanding of human cognition

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Credit: Thinglink
Credit: Thinglink

This slime mold species has thrived, more or less unchanged, for a billion years in its damp, decaying habitats.

And, in the last decade, it’s been changing how we think about cognition and problem-solving.

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Like all organisms, P. polycephalum needs to be able to make decisions about its environment. It needs to seek food and avoid danger. It needs to find the ideal conditions for its reproductive cycle. And this is where our little yellow friend gets really interesting. P. polycephalum doesn’t have a central nervous system. It doesn’t even have specialized tissues.

Yet it can solve complex puzzles, like labyrinth mazes, and remember novel substances. The kind of tasks we used to think only animals could perform.

“We’re talking about cognition without a brain, obviously, but also without any neurons at all. So the underlying mechanisms, the whole architectural framework of how it deals with information is totally different to the way your brain works,” biologist Chris Reid of Macquarie University in Australia tells ScienceAlert.

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