In Brief

The ‘blob’: zoo unveils mystery slime with 720 sexes

Extraordinary organism can learn and eat despite having no brain or mouth

A zoo in France is set to unveil a mysterious new organism dubbed the “blob” - a bright yellow slime mould that looks like a fungus but acts like an animal.

The bizarre new exhibition at Paris Zoological Park has “no mouth, no stomach, no eyes, yet... can detect food and digest it”, The Guardian reports. According to scientists, the slime - which they call physarum polycephalum - also has 720 genetic sexes but no brain, yet is “intelligent” enough to find its way through a maze and transmit knowledge to other blobs, adds CNet.

“The blob is really one of the most extraordinary things on Earth today,” said Bruno David, director of the Paris-based French National Museum of Natural History. “It’s been here for millions of years, and we still don’t really know what it is.”

He added: “It surprises us because it has no brain but is able to learn ... and if you merge two blobs, the one that has learned will transmit its knowledge to the other.” 

The mystery surrounding the organism has left scientists unsure about how to classify it. Indeed, as Science Alert notes: “The 900-odd species of slime mould, of which P. polycephalum is just one, are a taxonomic headache. They’re currently boxed into the Protista kingdom, because where else are you going to put something that isn’t a fungus, plant, bacteria, or animal?”

Audrey Dussustour, an animal cognition researcher at the Toulouse-based Paul Sabatier University, says the slime “is an unclassifiable as it has characteristics from the three major kingdoms”, reports English-language French news site The Connexion

“It eats like an animal, but breeds like a mushroom, and has a plant colour,” added Dussustour, who says that while studying a number of separate blobs in her lab, she returned after a couple of days away to find them all melded together on the ceiling.

The extraordinary organism is due to go on display in the French capital on Saturday, in a “first-of-its-kind exhibit” - but some commentators are a little nervous about unleashing it on the public.

“The nightmare creature is, of course, named after the 1950s Steve McQueen classic, The Blob,” says CNet’s Jackson Ryan. “And I'll just say this at the top: I don’t know what you think you’re doing, Paris Zoo, but I have seen exactly how that film plays out.”

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