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What is the blob, this strange organism soon to be studied in space?

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                As part of the Alpha mission, which will begin on April 22, astronaut Thomas Pesquet will take with him aboard the International Space Station blobs, strange single-celled organisms, neither plants, animals, nor fungi ... But endowed with intelligence and learning abilities.

                                    <p><span><span><span><em>Physarum Polycephalum</em> of its scientific name, the blob is a living species apart</span></span></span> <span><span><span>:</span></span></span> <span><span><span>unicellular organism without mouth or brain, it eats, moves one centimeter per hour and can communicate information to its fellows by merging with them.  Egg yolk, sticky and visible to the naked eye, "</span></span></span> <em>l</em><span><span><span><em>he blob has a primitive intelligence although he has no nervous system</em>, says Audrey Dussutour, </span></span></span>research director at the CNRS Animal Cognition Research Center<span><span><span> and blob specialist. <em>He can solve complex problems, get out of a labyrinth, learn and pass his knowledge on to his fellows.</em></span></span></span> <span><span><span>»</span></span></span>

AT also listen: The blob, unicellular organism and new star of the Paris zoo

An experience attests it : placed in front of a barrier of salt, a food which is not dangerous for him, but which he hates, the blob will gradually learn to overcome his aversion and to ignore it. It will therefore be able to exceed the salt more quickly than a blob “ naive ”, Who has not been used to it. But if the experienced blob merges with the “ naive », He will also know how to overcome the obstacle, without ever having done so. : they communicated. “ They share information, observe Audrey Dussutour. If a blob is poisoned, its fellows will flee in the opposite direction, as if they had been warned.. »

Biologically immortal

Passionate about these organisms with 720 different sexual types that she cultivates in her laboratory using oatmeal, it is she who nicknamed them “ blobs », In homage to the eponymous alien from an American science fiction film.

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It is also the blob’s unusual resistance capacities that fascinate. « Biologically speaking, continues Audrey Dussutour, a blob is immortal. Raised in good conditions, it seems to be able to regenerate itself eternally. “By alternating standby and” dormancy », During which it dries up and falls asleep, the blob indeed manages to regenerate its unique cell, made up of billions of nuclei.

It is simply necessary that it benefits from good living conditions, namely a humid and dark environment, full of food. Audrey Dussutour’s Toulouse laboratory thus has a 70-year-old American blob in great shape. It can also heal in two minutes and grow exponentially, doubling in size every day. The largest ever observed was 10 m2.

Blobs in space and in classrooms

Some of these fascinating creatures will be sent to space next July, as part of the Alpha mission. These blobs are “ tiny », Specifies Audrey Dussutour : they measure for the moment “ less than a quarter of a centimetere square “. For a week, their behavior will be observed by astronaut Thomas Pesquet and photographed several times a day.

« How will the blobs react in space, in a situation of weightlessness ?, asks Rémi Canton, project manager of the Alpha mission at the National Center for Space Studies (Cnes). We will see how they move, how they eat … Maybe their behavior will change, that instead of growing flat”, they will gain in volume, develop in 3D ? »

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► To read also : Space: astronaut Thomas Pesquet soon to be in command of the International Space Station

The experiment will make it possible to compare the behavior of the blobs, placed ins different situations : two of them will be installed in boxes filled with food, while the other two will be deprived of it. “ We will be able to look at their travel strategies and compare them with those they have on Earth. », Enthuses Rémi Canton.

The aim of the experiment is educational: the Cnes and the CNRS offer 2 000 blob breeding kits to elementary, middle and high school classes, so that students can run the experiment in parallel and compare their results with those obtained by astronaut Thomas Pesquet from the International Space Station. “ The idea of ​​the experiment is to get young people interested in science and scientific careers, explains Rémi Canton. Blobs are easy to breed, and if we manage to spark vocations, it’s won ! »Classes can apply until May 21, by completing the Blob-Terre form.



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