Slime molds creep into the New York Times

By Carl Zimmer | October 3, 2011 5:24 pm

My editor at the New York Times called me a few weeks ago and said, “Slime molds! Can you write something about them?” Moments like that fill me with gratitude.

Here’s my story, on the cover of tomorrow’s Science Times. I look at how they solve the evolutionary puzzles of altruism, build highway systems, and turn out to be some of the oldest life forms on land.

(And for more on the ever-expanding worldwide diversity of slime mold, check out the Eumycetezoan Project.]

[Image: myriorama/Flickr via Creative Commons]

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Evolution, Writing Elsewhere

Comments (7)

Links to this Post

  1. World’s Strangest | Those Sneaky Slime Molds | October 5, 2011
  1. I’m unimpressed. Slime molds have been running Fox News for years!

  2. Allan Self

    Now why go and insult perfectly respectable slime molds like that?

  3. Cool stuff. One minor correction, though: The article says about 80% of Dictyostelium cells die to form stalk, but it’s actually about 20%. Sounds like you got the numbers switched around.

    [CZ: Thanks! Also: Arg! I'll put a correction through at the Times.]

  4. Rick Ragan

    Carl;

    I just read your article in the NYT about slime molds, very nice. Then I went to your web site and see you have written a bunch on evolution, viruses, etc. I didn’t see a place to comment on the NYT article, so here is a question / idea for you:

    I saw an rather dumb show on the Science channel the other night about human sperm. It was written from the sperm’s perspective, using 250M people running over a valley looking for the egg.

    The activities sperm have to go through to get to the egg are insane, getting stuck in crevices, harsh acidic environments, leukocytes, vast distances, timing, etc.

    I find it very hard to believe this reproductive system could evolve on it’s own, randomly in parallel, incorporated within a very early animal.

    So here is the question: what do you think about the idea that the earliest animal was a composite creature: part animal and part slime mold. Now of course I don’t mean that externally, the animal had slime mold properties, but that the genetics of the slime mold were somehow incorporated into the animal’s reproductive system.

    And of course not really all of a sudden, but that somewhere down the genetic line where sexual reproduction began with the first animals or pre-animals. And probably not slime molds, but something like more like a virus with slime molds “intelligence” that had seeking behavior that infected both male and female early animals that make it more likely to get the sperm to the egg?

    Ah, now that I write it, this sounds rather complicated. Maybe randomness would be simpler?

  5. David B. Benson

    Carl — That was most fine. Thank you for writing it.

  6. Carl —

    That was really fascinating! Thank you. I’ll definitely have to do more research into slime molds.

    I was really struck with the parallels with eusociality in animals — different members of a community adapted to different roles, and altruistic kin selection. I’ve only got a layman’s understanding of this stuff, but to me cellular slime molds sound like a kind of facultative eusociality.

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The Loom

A blog about life, past and future. Written by DISCOVER contributing editor and columnist Carl Zimmer.

About Carl Zimmer

Carl Zimmer writes about science regularly for The New York Times and magazines such as DISCOVER, which also hosts his blog, The LoomHe is the author of 12 books, the most recent of which is Science Ink: Tattoos of the Science Obsessed.

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