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Artificial Life

Winter 2015, Vol. 21, No. 1, Pages 73-91
(doi: 10.1162/ARTL_a_00153)
© 2015 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
A Would-Be Nervous System Made from a Slime Mold
Article PDF (1.64 MB)

The slime mold Physarum polycephalum is a huge single cell that has proved to be a fruitful material for designing novel computing architectures. The slime mold is capable of sensing tactile, chemical, and optical stimuli and converting them to characteristic patterns of its electrical potential oscillations. The electrical responses to stimuli may propagate along protoplasmic tubes for distances exceeding tens of centimeters, as impulses in neural pathways do. A slime mold makes decisions about its propagation direction based on information fusion from thousands of spatially extended protoplasmic loci, similarly to a neuron collecting information from its dendritic tree. The analogy is distant yet inspiring. We speculate on whether alternative—would-be—nervous systems can be developed and practically implemented from the slime mold. We uncover analogies between the slime mold and neurons, and demonstrate that the slime mold can play the roles of primitive mechanoreceptors, photoreceptors, and chemoreceptors; we also show how the Physarum neural pathways develop. The results constituted the first step towards experimental laboratory studies of nervous system implementation in slime molds.