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article imageParis Zoological Park unveils 'The Blob' on Saturday

By Karen Graham     Oct 17, 2019 in Science
Paris - It is bright yellow, can creep along at a speed of up to 4 centimeters (1.6 inches) per hour, can solve problems even though it doesn't have a brain and can heal itself if it is cut in two. Meet the "blob," a most unusual organism.
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On Saturday, the Paris Zoological Park will begin a first-of-its-kind exhibit housing a really weird organism: a bright yellow slime mold it has dubbed "The Blob." The organism has no mouth, no stomach, and no eyes, yet it can detect food and digest it.
The slime mold was given the moniker, "The blob" after the 1958 movie of the same name that debuted Steve McQueen in his first starring role. In the movie, the blob was an alien lifeform that attempted to consume everything in its path in a small Pennsylvania town.
The blob at the Paris zoo is certainly not an alien lifeform, but it is unusual. Specifically, this blob is an organism known as Physarum polycephalum. It's scientific name literally means "many-headed slime."
“The blob is a living being which belongs to one of nature’s mysteries”, said Bruno David, director of the Paris Museum of Natural History, of which the Zoological Park is part, reports Reuters.
Slime mold  maple seeds on fir stump in  Mount Rainier National Park  Washington.
Slime mold, maple seeds on fir stump in Mount Rainier National Park, Washington.
U.S. National Park Service/Steve Redman
What is the blob?
The slimy, gelatinous, amoeba-like creature has 720 sexes, no brain, and no eyes but is "intelligent" enough to seek out food just like an animal would and find its way through a maze. Actually, it is often used as a model organism for many studies involving amoeboid movement and cell motility.
P. polycephalum inhabits shady, cool, moist areas, such as decaying leaves and logs. Like slime molds in general, it is sensitive to light; It is thought that light can repel the slime mold and may be a factor in triggering spore growth.
While the Paris zoo may have used a bit of "oversell" in advertising the slimy goo-like organism as"the blob," keep in mind that it really does move, albeit rather slowly. And for science enthusiasts, it is really quite an extraordinary part of the Earth's biome.
Science Alert points out that there are 900-odd species of slime mold, of which P. polycephalum is just one - and they are a taxonomic headache.
Seeing as the organism can't be classified as either a fungus, plant, bacteria or animal, it has been put into the Protista Kingdom. The protists do not form a natural group, or clade since they exclude certain eukaryotes; but, like algae or invertebrates, they are often grouped together for convenience.
Sampling of Protists: Clockwise from top left: red algae (Chondrus crispus); brown algae (Giant Kelp...
Sampling of Protists: Clockwise from top left: red algae (Chondrus crispus); brown algae (Giant Kelp); ciliate (Frontonia); golden algae (Dinobryon); Foraminifera (Radiolaria); parasitic flagellate (Giardia muris); pathogenic amoeba (Acanthamoeba); amoebozoan slime mold (Fuligo septica)
Wikipedia articles on Protists
Fascinating method of movement
Don't assume P. polycephalum's movement is nothing more than random oozing to get around. The movement of P. polycephalum is termed shuttle streaming. Shuttle streaming is characterized by the rhythmic back-and-forth flow of the protoplasm, taking about two minutes.
The slow creep of their branching bodies isn't merely some blind meandering either. Slime molds are able to pick paths according to algorithms hardwired into their biochemistry. On occasion they squish together, forming a wide, branching structure called a plasmodium that can cover several square meters.
"If we put it in a maze, it will learn and take the best route out of the maze to find its food," David told Reuters. "If we put an obstacle in front of it -- the blob hates salt, for example -- it won't get past it right away, even if there is food behind it."
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