The cellular slime mold might seem to be a lowly form of life—maybe just the sort that could conceivably have evolved from inanimate matter. But new research reminds us just how wrong such fanciful imaginings are.
In fact, it’s not even clear whether we should describe the cellular slime mold as an incredible creature or as incredible creatures. The slime mold can live as a unicellular organism, but when under duress, individual slime mold cells join together to behave in concert and build a multicellular organism-of-sorts. The multicellular slime mold grows a small spore-holding stalk to propagate the species.
Stanford University scientists have taken a closer look at the inner workings of slime mold cells. Their research shows that slime mold cells “have a tissue structure that was previously thought to exist only in more sophisticated animals.”
In animals, proteins help organize cells into “epithelial” layers, such that each cell touches other cells, but the cells together keep a complete surface open to the formation’s interior. These structures are found in many animal organs, such as in intestines, where the surface of cells helps to absorb nutrients; elsewhere, these epithelial layers can secrete substances into the hollow area. In the multicellular slime mold, the tissue secrets two proteins that help the stalk stay upright.
Common design seems to better explain how two distantly related forms of life, one of which appears quite simple, could share this complex cellular capability.
The scientists believe that this shows that “the ancient ancestor of slime molds and animals” must have had the two proteins. But common design seems to better explain how two distantly related forms of life, one of which appears quite simple, could share this complex cellular capability.
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