It's beautiful, it's intelligent ... it's slime
It may sound like the perfect date; in reality, it's what grows on rotten tree stumps and piles of dog vomit (see left). These amoeba-like organisms feed on microorganisms in decaying vegetable matter, and when they find the right kind of food they can grow very large -- up to several meters in diameter. Made up of a mass of protoplasm embedded with multiple nuclei, they lack individual cell walls. The adult feeding stage, called a plasmodium, is a "glistening mass of mucus which swarms over and engulfs its food [Link]." They're also the fastest organism of their kind -- under the right conditions, observed under a microscope, you can see a silme mold's cytoplasm stream at speeds up to 1.35 mm/second. (Seriously, that's formula-one level fast when it comes to microscopic movement.)
For years, science fiction stories have traded on the notion that slime molds can become intelligent -- even scheming. For instance, Philip K. Dick's novel Clans of the Alphane Moon featured a character called Lord Running Clam who was an intelligent slime mold who can speak and has telepathic powers. But in 2000, a group of Japanese scientists proved that slime molds do indeed have a primitive form of intelligence, setting up an experiment in which a slime mold found its way through a maze, "negotiating the shortest route, forgoing three longer paths." (Here's the link.)
Besides being intelligent and kind of interesting, they can also be striking beautiful, and take very different forms. A Russian photographer has made it his passion to photograph different kinds of slime molds, and we wanted to feature some of his best work here.