The "Consciousness" of Slime Molds

Slime molds are composed of a large number of amoebas. They sometimes form a slimy coating on dead logs and such. I tend to think of an amoeba as about the simplest form of motile life. But under certain conditions, such as not enough moisture, they begin to cluster together into little beads, or communities. These beads build into peaks, even spires, and eventually produce a "fruiting body" at the tip from which spores are spread by the wind. This is what I'd call group consciousness and cooperation.

It would be interesting to know if each, amoeba including those at the base, must stretch out to extend a pseudopod to the tip of the peak in order to reproduce in this manner. Or are the spores from those at the base passed along by those above? Or are those at the peak the only ones to reproduce? (After all they're all much more closely related than siblings, so it doesn't usually matter much which ones furnish the genetic info.) Do they perhaps then die and fall away, giving exposure to those below? Or maybe they don't die but go to the bottom and help support those who were there formerly? (I doubt that.)

In any case, the higher the peak, the further the wind will distribute the spores. If all the amoebas on one log were to get together and form one peak, think how much higher it would be. Another advantage is that if drying out is a problem, it only happens on the surface and in one large peak the surface/volume ratio is decreased. On the other hand, if only those at the top reproduce and don't fall away, then with only one peak, fewer total spores will be distributed. Also, of course there are limitations. Amoebas don't travel by rapid transit (well at least not while on a rotting log in the forest) and weight and even heat dissipation might become a problem.


Send me your thoughts.
Dan Robinson, danrob@efn.org, Eugene, Oregon
My home page: http://www.efn.org/~danrob/