Illustration of Slime-mold bodies

1947 Slime-mold bodies

The book of science

Tom Sharp

John Tyler Bonner botany Illustration of Slime-mold bodies

Slime-mold bodies

We draw your attention to certain amoeba-like cells that live alone in soils eating bacteria while they may. But when their bacterial diet gets scarce, thousands of our little friends gather into beautiful spiral and feather patterns then form a coordinated slug-like body that crawls to the light where individual cells sacrifice themselves to form tapered stalks raising up globes that burst and release live spores that germinate into independent cells like their parents.


Starved slime-mold cells secrete cyclic adenosine monophosphate telling their fellow slime-mold cells where to find each other, time to congregate, migrate to the light, and differentiate to grow globes on stalks to disperse their spores.


If you divide a slime-mold slug in half, the two parts will move back together. It’s almost as though they had brains. Mixtures of species of slime-mold cells separate themselves by species, almost as though they had brains. Slime molds learn to predict and respond to a periodic adverse condition. Yes, it’s almost as though they had brains. If you grow slime-mold cells in a flat dish model cities using drops of food mountains and rivers using patterns of light they congregate along the most optimal paths to the food, almost as though they had a brain.


While I dig a hole to bury a rat the kind rich deep smell of the dirt makes me want to dig deeper.

Here I write of dictyostelium, that is, cellular slime molds, which are neither molds nor particularly slimy. Nor are they animals, or fungi, or bacteria, or plants; they are protists, members of the fifth kingdom of life. These tiny creatures gather together, coordinate their behaviors, learn from their experiences, and sacrifice themselves for the propagation of their species.

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