Slime Molds (Myxomycetes), Act II: Benefits for Humans
By Dina Hanson
Kent Goodwin’s chance encounter with a slime mold, on Upper Army Road, prompted him to describe the life cycle of this remarkable living form in a September 2018 blog post. Let’s refer to Kent’s colourful descriptions of slime molds as Slime Molds, Act l.
Slime. Mold. Neither word conjures up the beauty we expect to see in the Kimberley Nature Park. But we’d be remiss were we not to learn more about this remarkable member of Kingdom Protista.
Slime molds (or moulds) are saprophytes, lacking in chlorophyll, that feed on bacteria, fungi, yeasts and dead organic matter. I have found them, when gently stroked, to have a satiny-smooth texture. What appear to be individual lumps transform themselves into a creamy mousse. But they have many more aptitudes and benefits to humans than a chocolate dessert.
At this time of multi-drug-resistant pathogens, the molds, bacteria, fungi and algae, which possess antimicrobial properties, may be the next generation of synthetic antibiotics. Thanks, slime molds, for (potentially) helping keep us healthy!
Shaped by hundreds of millions of years of evolution, slime molds can be effective in biologically inspired adaptive network design. Researchers at the University of Toronto are using networks, like those used by slime molds to obtain and transport nutrients, as models for city planning, for example in subway design. In fact, the slime mold network was 40% less susceptible to disruption than the human-designed system! Slime molds, thank you for helping us design better transportation systems!
The fastest-growing category of waste, at 40 million tons per year, is electronic waste. In an experiment to address this, scientists created a smartwatch, with slime mold as a key component, that requires the owner to regularly "feed" it an oat-water mixture. Researchers found a high degree of attachment to the watch when the participants had to keep their "pet" alive, and they hope this fondness might inspire smartphone owners to keep their devices for longer periods, thus reducing electronic waste. Thanks for helping reduce pollution, slime molds!
If this journey through the world of slime molds has intrigued you, keep an eye out in your travels through the KNP—and feel free to let us know!
All photos taken by Dina.