J. K. Wickiser Lab

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Network Science – making even Slime Molds sexy

Slime molds don’t sound very exciting but researchers are using them to optimize networks ranging from highway systems to disasters emergency response procedures. In this recent NYT Science Times piece, the research of several prominent labs is showcased.

In short, these organisms live as individual soil-dwelling cells and are content to survive on their basic food source: bacteria. But when food becomes scarce, these individuals send a chemical signal out to each other and a major change in physiology and strategy takes place. Some cells will sacrifice themselves for the great good of the group by filling themselves up with a carbohydrate that stiffens them (causing death). These cells serve as a scaffold support so that other cells can use this stalk as a structure to form spores, or cellular life rafts, that are capable of weathering the starvation conditions. Only when food becomes plentiful do the spores change back into individual cells to form a new colony.

The Bionetworks group in the Network Science Center is currently studying the modes of communication between cells as they respond not only to starvation conditions, but chemical contaminants of military interest as well.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, October 6, 2011 at 5:03 am and is filed under Science in the Lay Press. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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