Friday, January 22, 2010

JJNN: Slime molds and trains

Hi again all.

I have run across some strange experiments in my time, but the one mentioned in this article takes the first prize in the strange experiment contest.

Before I talk about that experiment, though, I want to talk about something near and dear to all of our hearts, slime molds! What is a slime mold? Well, it neither really a slime (especially not of dragon quest fame) nor truly mold. We have all probably run across a slime mold at one point or another. They look something like the picture below:

Slime molds usually come in a variety of bright colors and can usually be seen in places like on rotting logs or in the leaf litter on the forest floor. They can sometimes also form in the canopy of a forest. Slime molds reproduce using spores and start life looking something like an amoeba. The slime molds can also "reach out" with strands in search of food.

That is where the experiment I was talking about above comes in. A group of scientists at Hokkaido University wanted to examine the networks that slime molds make when they stretch out in search of food. Apparently they wanted to compare the shape the slime mold made with something that everyone knew, so they made a mockup of the railway system in around Tokyo. They placed the hungry slime mold in the center (around where Tokyo station would be) and placed food where some of the other major stations would be. After that they just sat back and watched the fun.

So, what was the result? Take a look at the pictures below.

In the pictures you can see the slime mold in the middle and the food set up in a pattern around the slime mold. In the second picture you can see the slime mold expanding in its search for food and in the last picture you can see that it has fully expanded. Also, notice that all the unnecessary parts of the expansion from the second picture are gone, making the feeding system very efficient.

How does this compare to the real train map? Check out the map below:

It's close, I guess. Is it impressive? I guess so. Will it change the scientific community? I doubt it. It is not really a waste of research money, but it is coming close.

Any way, it is now time for the word of the day. Today's word is 粘菌(ねんきん). It is pronounced nenkin and means slime mold. The slime mold, every one's favorite slime that is not a slime and mold that is not a mold.

See you next time at JJNN

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