Collective Behaviour - Winter Seminar Series 2022/23

Problem Solving in Slime Molds

Audrey Dussutour

This event is part of an event series „CASCB Winter Semester Series 2022/23“.

The survival of all species requires appropriate behavioral responses to environmental challenges. Although single cell organisms lack the complex hardware of a true brain, they live in complex ecological niche and face the same decision-making challenges that animals are faced with: they must feed and mate, adapt to changing conditions, sense and avoid predators and find suitable microclimates to inhabit. However,  behavioral processes such-as learning and decision making have hitherto been investigated almost exclusively in multicellular neural organisms. Evidence for learning and decision making in non-neural multicellular organisms are highly debated and only a few unequivocal reports of learning and decision making have been described in single celled organisms. Acellular slime molds are remarkable single cell organisms that belongs to the Amoebozoa, a kingdom usually considered to be a sister group to fungi and animals. Slime molds have often been used as a model organism to study problem-solving in aneural biological systems. To cite just a few examples, slime molds are able to find the shortest path through a maze, construct efficient transport networks, use social information, anticipate periodic events, avoid previously explored area, make multi-attribute decision..etc. In the first part of my talk, I will focus on decision making and explore various frameworks: nutritional geometry, speed versus accuracy trade-off, Weber's law and social influence.  In the second part of my talk, I will review a series of experiments showing that slime molds display habituation, a simple form of learning. In the last part of my talk I will demonstrate how slime molds can be used to 1) increase the public’s understanding of science and research, 2) raise awareness about societal challenges and 3) develop critical thinking.

Audrey Dussutour, a Frenchborn ethologist, is a CNRS Senior Researcher at the Research centre on Animal Cognition in Toulouse (Paul Sabatier University, France). She studies collective behavior and cognition, working with ant colonies and slime molds. Her topics of interest include decision-making, learning and integrative nutrition. She has made important contributions to these fields through meticulous behavioral experiments. In 2021, Audrey was awarded a Medal by the CNRS and given the French order of merit by the President of the French Republic, for her involvement in outreach activities. An example of her outreach efforts includes a citizen science project involving 350 000 schoolchildren with the aim to engage kids in science. Astronaut Thomas Pesquet onboard the ISS and schools were asked to run the same experiment to observe if slime molds behave differently in microgravity.

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