Substrate composition directs slime molds behavior
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Physarum polycephalum, also called slime mold, is a giant single-celled organism that can grow to cover several square meters, forming search fronts that are connected to a system of intersecting veins. An original experimental protocol allowed tracking the shape of slime mold placed in homogenous substrates containing an attractant (glucose) or a repellent (salt), or in homogeneous substrates that contained an attractive spot (glucose), an eccentric slime mold and a repulsive spot (salt) in between. For the first time, the rate of exploration of unexplored areas (primary growth) and the rate of extension in previously explored areas (secondary growth) were rigorously measured, by means of a sophisticated image analysis program. This paper shows that the chemical composition of the substrate has more influence on the morphology and growth dynamics of slime mold than that of concentrated spots of chemicals. It was also found that on a repulsive substrate, slime mold exhibits a bias towards secondary growth, which suggests that the mucus produced during slime mold migration acts as a protective shell in adverse environments.