Meet The Mysterious Blob At The Paris Zoo
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
In the horror classic "The Blob," a small town is taken over by slime from outer space who, that, whatever, is intuitive, enterprising, unable to survive any weapon mere humans can muster.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM TRAILER, "THE BLOB")
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: ...One city - before long, the nation. And then the world could fall before the blood-curdling threat of The Blob.
SIMON: This week, the Paris Zoological Park unveiled its own blob. It's yellow. It can grow only to a few meters and very slowly. But it is smart not just for a blob. Researchers have called this blob a genius, though it has no brain. Pause for your own smart remark. Helping us to make sense of this blob, here's Audrey Dussutour at the French National Center for Scientific Research. Thanks very much for being with us.
AUDREY DUSSUTOUR: Hello.
SIMON: Is this blob a plant, animal, fungi?
AUDREY DUSSUTOUR: None of that. The blob also known as Physarum polycephalum - its Latin name - and also known as slime mold in English. It belongs to the Myxomycetes class and the Amoebozoa kingdom. So nothing to do with an animal, a plant or a fungus.
SIMON: If it were right in front of me on the bathroom floor, what would it look like?
AUDREY DUSSUTOUR: Scrambled eggs. It looks exactly like scrambled eggs.
SIMON: Ooh. But don't mistake it for such. This blob has been called a genius. What makes a blob with no brain a genius?
AUDREY DUSSUTOUR: Yeah. It's because slime mold - I mean the blob - it demonstrate key aspect of decision making. So, for example, it can find its way through a maze. It can construct efficient transport networks, sometimes better than us, actually. And it can even learn.
SIMON: This - the blob can learn?
AUDREY DUSSUTOUR: Yeah. It's not like complex learning. But it can learn to ignore something it doesn't like. So, for example, the blob doesn't like a lot of things, like salt, caffeine. And it can learn to ignore the substance. And it can even store this memory for months and sometimes for years.
SIMON: I'm almost stupefied to think about - what are the implications of this research?
AUDREY DUSSUTOUR: So what is very interesting about this research is that before we were thinking that learning was restricted to animals with a nervous system. But recently, some people demonstrate learning in plants. And so now we are just demonstrating that even a unicell organism could learn. So there's lots of question now.
SIMON: You spend a lot of time with this blob. Have you given the blob a name?
AUDREY DUSSUTOUR: No. We have nicknames. But it's more depending on the country we're from. So we have the Australian blob, the Japanese blob. There's American blob.
SIMON: Well, I'm just hoping the American blob is bigger and better than anybody else's blob, right?
AUDREY DUSSUTOUR: The American one is very funny because, for example, it can - it doesn't want to eat organic oat because we feed our slime mold with oats flakes. And it's the only one who doesn't want to eat organic oats, which is quite funny.
SIMON: Forgive me, doctor, but have you tried Cheetos on the American blob? Americans love Cheetos.
AUDREY DUSSUTOUR: It's why we should try (laughter) Definitely.
SIMON: Well, please convey our best to the blob. Audrey Dussutour is a researcher with the French National Center for Scientific Research. Thank you.
AUDREY DUSSUTOUR: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE BLOB")
THE FIVE BLOBS: (Singing) Beware of The Blob, it creeps and leaps and glides and slides across the floor, right through the door and all around the wall - a splotch, a blotch. Be careful of The Blob. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.