No Brain Required: Scientists Prove Slime Molds Capable of Learning

The theory that our highly-developed nervous system provides us with the unique capability to learn has been shattered, as French researchers have proved that protozoans can acquire information and skills requiring a brain.

Physarum polycephalum, a type of slime mold, appears to be capable of learning, according to a new study by biologists from Toulouse-based Centre de Recherches sur la Cognition Animale.

The fact that this form of generally unicellular organisms existed on Earth 1.5 billion years ago, long before the emergence of species with developed brains, puts into question contemporary evolution theory, the scientists pointed out.

The revelation came after the researchers carried out a row of “habituation learning” tests involving slime molds. The organisms were put in situations where they had to cross jellied obstacles to reach food. While one of the obstacles was pure, others contained quinine or caffeine, both of which are safe for the organisms to contact, but bitter in taste.

At first the molds avoided contact with the jelly containing substances, but once they realized that crossing an obstacle was necessary to eat, the move was accomplished. It took mold specimens two days to become acclimated to quinine and caffeine. All the jelly “bridges” were crossed in six-day period.

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