Just when you thought slime molds, which alternate between individual and collective organisms, couldn’t get any weirder.

If amoebas can grow their own food, you have even less of an excuse for not doing so yourself. And no, Farmville doesn’t count.

Slime Molds Are Earth’s Smallest, Oldest Farmers http://feeds.wired.com/~r/wired/index/~3/7UzmakhSZzY/ via Byline Colonies of a bizarre microbial goo have been found practicing agriculture at a scale tinier than any seen before….

When food is short, hundreds of thousands of amoebas come together, fusing into a single entity. It may crawl off as a slug in search of richer pastures, then form a stalk topped by a “fruiting body” that bursts to disperse a few lucky amoebas-turned-spores. Or it may form the stalk right away, without crawling.

It’s been thought that slime molds simply scavenge, eating bacteria they like and oozing out the rest. In laboratories, researchers “cure” slime molds of their bacteria by allowing them to purge themselves on Petri dishes. But Brock, who studies how slime-mold cells communicate and self-organize, kept finding bacteria in the fruiting bodies of some slime molds and not others….

They found that some strains didn’t gorge themselves and “lick the plate clean” of bacteria, but instead saved some inside of the colony. They were farmers, and fared better in some soils than their nonfarming counterparts.

From the original article:

“The behavior falls short of the kind of ‘farming’ that more advanced animals do; ants, for example, nurture a single fungus species that no longer exists in the wild. But the idea that an amoeba that spends much of its life as a single-celled organism could hold short of consuming a food supply before decamping is an astonishing one. More than just a snack for the journey of dispersal, the idea is that the bacteria that travel with the spores can ‘seed’ a new bacterial colony, and thus a food source in case the new locale should be lacking in bacteria.”

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