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Creation 43(3):25, July 2021

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Smart slime

by

creativecommons.org/Bill Sheehanphysarum-polycephalum-mould

Despite consisting of only a single biological cell, the slime mould Physarum polycephalum can attain huge sizes. It frequently takes the form of an amoeba-like creature several centimetres long, and on occasion even stretching up to several metres. It deservedly features as the largest cell on earth in the Guinness Book of World Records.

But the headaches it causes evolutionary scientists are less well publicized. “Existing at the crossroads between the kingdoms of animals, plants and fungi”,1 it has long defied evolutionists’ attempts to categorize it and the other slime moulds. In some ways its life cycle resembles that of a fungus, but partially also that of certain bacteria. Adding to the complication, Physarum makes its own cellulose, like plants do. Mostly, though, Physarum lives and feeds like a one-celled ‘animal’. (Incredibly, some slime moulds are known to even temporarily aggregate into and ‘behave’ like multicellular animals!2)

Noting the striking ability of Physarum to “solve complex problems such as finding the shortest path through a maze”, biologists have dubbed the single-celled organism “intelligent”.1 Furthermore, the slime mould has been shown to have a memory, which means it can return to food sources, and avoid places of known danger. And all this without having a nervous system, previously thought to be essential for this. No wonder this ‘smart slime’ has “kindled questions about decision-making on the most basic levels of life”.1

So far, researchers have identified that the creature somehow “weaves memories of food encounters directly into the architecture of the network-like body”, ready to use that stored information “when making future decisions”.1 And the researchers one day hope to achieve the practical “bioinspired design” application from these findings of a soft-bodied robot that can navigate through complex environments.3

Three lessons from all this:

  1. The architectural and self-navigation ‘bioinspired design’ features that engineers hope to copy point to the slime mould itself having been designed. Therefore it must have had a Designer! (The capital ‘D’ is deserved, especially when one considers also the ultra-high-level design characteristics in slime moulds (e.g. reproduction) that engineers might never be able to emulate. And all this ‘even’ in single-celled organisms, sophisticated living creatures often dismissed as the ‘simplest’, supposedly “ancient”1, life.)
  2. The similar features that slime moulds have in common with fungi, bacteria, plants, and animals would indicate these were all made by the same Designer.
  3. The stark differences between slime moulds and other organisms defy naturalistic attempts to draw an ‘evolutionary family tree’—just as if the differences were put there for precisely that purpose, by that Designer (Romans 1:19–20).
Posted on homepage: 15 June 2022

References and notes

  1. Technical University of Munich, A memory without a brain: How a single cell slime mold makes smart decisions without a central nervous system; sciencedaily.com, 23 Feb 2021. Return to text.
  2. McQueen, R. and Catchpoole, D., The ‘fungus’ that ‘walks’, Creation 22(3):49–51, June 2000. Return to text.
  3. Kramar, M. and Alim, K., Encoding memory in tube diameter hierarchy of living flow network, PNAS 118(10):e2007815118, 9 Mar 2021. Return to text.