Remarkable problem-solving ability of unicellular amoeboid organism and its mechanism.
ABSTRACT: Choosing a better move correctly and quickly is a fundamental skill of living organisms that corresponds to solving a computationally demanding problem. A unicellular plasmodium of Physarum polycephalum searches for a solution to the travelling salesman problem (TSP) by changing its shape to minimize the risk of being exposed to aversive light stimuli. In our previous studies, we reported the results on the eight-city TSP solution. In this study, we show that the time taken by plasmodium to find a reasonably high-quality TSP solution grows linearly as the problem size increases from four to eight. Interestingly, the quality of the solution does not degrade despite the explosive expansion of the search space. Formulating a computational model, we show that the linear-time solution can be achieved if the intrinsic dynamics could allocate intracellular resources to grow the plasmodium terminals with a constant rate, even while responding to the stimuli. These results may lead to the development of novel analogue computers enabling approximate solutions of complex optimization problems in linear time.
Project description:The aim of this work is to quantify the spatio-temporal dynamics of flow-driven amoeboid locomotion in small (~100 µm) fragments of the true slime mold Physarum polycephalum. In this model organism, cellular contraction drives intracellular flows, and these flows transport the chemical signals that regulate contraction in the first place. As a consequence of these non-linear interactions, a diversity of migratory behaviors can be observed in migrating Physarum fragments. To study these dynamics, we measure the spatio-temporal distributions of the velocities of the endoplasm and ectoplasm of each migrating fragment, the traction stresses it generates on the substratum, and the concentration of free intracellular calcium. Using these unprecedented experimental data, we classify migrating Physarum fragments according to their dynamics, finding that they often exhibit spontaneously coordinated waves of flow, contractility and chemical signaling. We show that Physarum fragments exhibiting symmetric spatio-temporal patterns of endoplasmic flow migrate significantly slower than fragments with asymmetric patterns. In addition, our joint measurements of ectoplasm velocity and traction stress at the substratum suggest that forward motion of the ectoplasm is enabled by a succession of stick-slip transitions, which we conjecture are also organized in the form of waves. Combining our experiments with a simplified convection-diffusion model, we show that the convective transport of calcium ions may be key for establishing and maintaining the spatiotemporal patterns of calcium concentration that regulate the generation of contractile forces.
Project description:Several recent studies hint at shared patterns in decision-making between taxonomically distant organisms, yet few studies demonstrate and dissect mechanisms of decision-making in simpler organisms. We examine decision-making in the unicellular slime mould Physarum polycephalum using a classical decision problem adapted from human and animal decision-making studies: the two-armed bandit problem. This problem has previously only been used to study organisms with brains, yet here we demonstrate that a brainless unicellular organism compares the relative qualities of multiple options, integrates over repeated samplings to perform well in random environments, and combines information on reward frequency and magnitude in order to make correct and adaptive decisions. We extend our inquiry by using Bayesian model selection to determine the most likely algorithm used by the cell when making decisions. We deduce that this algorithm centres around a tendency to exploit environments in proportion to their reward experienced through past sampling. The algorithm is intermediate in computational complexity between simple, reactionary heuristics and calculation-intensive optimal performance algorithms, yet it has very good relative performance. Our study provides insight into ancestral mechanisms of decision-making and suggests that fundamental principles of decision-making, information processing and even cognition are shared among diverse biological systems.
Project description:Roots of the medicinal plant Valeriana officinalis are well-studied for their various biological activities. We applied genetically transformed V. officinalis root biomass to exert control of Physarum polycephalum, an amoeba-based emergent computing substrate. The plasmodial stage of the P. polycephalum life cycle constitutes a single, multinucleate cell visible by unaided eye. The plasmodium modifies its network of oscillating protoplasm in response to spatial configurations of attractants and repellents, a behavior that is interpreted as biological computation. To program the computing behavior of P. polycephalum, a diverse and sustainable library of plasmodium modulators is required. Hairy roots produced by genetic transformation with Agrobacterium rhizogenes are a metabolically stable source of bioactive compounds. Adventitious roots were induced on in vitro V. officinalis plants following infection with A. rhizogenes. A single hairy root clone was selected for massive propagation and the biomass was characterized in P. polycephalum chemotaxis, maze-solving, and electrical activity assays. The Agrobacterium-derived roots of V. officinalis elicited a positive chemotactic response and augmented maze-solving behavior. In a simple plasmodium circuit, introduction of hairy root biomass stimulated the oscillation patterns of slime mold's surface electrical activity. We propose that manipulation of P. polycephalum with the plant root culture platform can be applied to the development of slime mold microfluidic devices as well as future models for engineering the plant rhizosphere.
Project description:The traveling salesman problem (TSP) is one of the most prominent combinatorial optimization problems. Given a complete graph [Formula: see text] and non-negative distances d for every edge, the TSP asks for a shortest tour through all vertices with respect to the distances d. The method of choice for solving the TSP to optimality is a branch and cut approach. Usually the integrality constraints are relaxed first and all separation processes to identify violated inequalities are done on fractional solutions. In our approach we try to exploit the impressive performance of current ILP-solvers and work only with integer solutions without ever interfering with fractional solutions. We stick to a very simple ILP-model and relax the subtour elimination constraints only. The resulting problem is solved to integer optimality, violated constraints (which are trivial to find) are added and the process is repeated until a feasible solution is found. In order to speed up the algorithm we pursue several attempts to find as many relevant subtours as possible. These attempts are based on the clustering of vertices with additional insights gained from empirical observations and random graph theory. Computational results are performed on test instances taken from the TSPLIB95 and on random Euclidean graphs.
Project description:Historically, research has focused on the mean and often neglected the variance. However, variability in nature is observable at all scales: among cells within an individual, among individuals within a population and among populations within a species. A fundamental quest in biology now is to find the mechanisms that underlie variability. Here, we investigated behavioural variability in a unique unicellular organism, Physarum polycephalum. We combined experiments and models to show that variability in cell signalling contributes to major differences in behaviour underpinning some aspects of social interactions. First, following thousands of cells under various contexts, we identified distinct behavioural phenotypes: 'slow-regular-social', 'fast-regular-social' and 'fast-irregular-asocial'. Second, coupling chemical analysis and behavioural assays we found that calcium signalling is responsible for these behavioural phenotypes. Finally, we show that differences in signalling and behaviour led to alternative social strategies. Our results have considerable implications for our understanding of the emergence of variability in living organisms.
Project description:It was previously shown that the two members of the cell cycle-regulated histone H4 gene family, H4-1 and H4-2, are replicated at the onset of S phase in the naturally synchronous plasmodium of Physarum polycephalum, suggesting that they are flanked by replication origins. It was further shown that a DNA fragment upstream of the H4-1 gene is able to confer autonomous replication of a plasmid in the budding yeast. In this paper, we re-investigated replication of the unlinked Physarum histone H4 genes by mapping the replication origin of these two loci using alkaline agarose gel and neutral/neutral 2-dimensional agarose gel electrophoreses. We showed that the two replicons containing the H4 genes are simultaneously activated at the onset of S phase and we mapped an efficient, bidirectional replication origin in the vicinity of each gene. Our data demonstrated that the Physarum sequence that functions as an ARS in yeast is not the site of replication initiation at the H4-1 locus. We also observed a stalling of the rightward moving replication fork downstream of the H4-1 gene, in a region where transient topoisomerase II sites were previously mapped. Our results further extend the concept of replication/transcription coupling in Physarum to cell cycle-regulated genes.
Project description:We analyzed the replication of two unlinked actin genes, ardB and ardC , which are abundantly transcribed in the naturally synchronous plasmodium of the slime mold Physarum polycephalum. Detection and size measurements of single-stranded nascent replication intermediates (RIs) demonstrate that these two genes are concomitantly replicated at the onset of the 3-h S phase and tightly linked to replication origins. Appearance of RIs on neutral-neutral two-dimensional gels at specific time points in early S phase and analysis of their structure confirmed these results and further established that, in both cases, an efficient, site-specific, bidirectional origin of replication is localized within the promoter region of the gene. We also determined similar elongation rates for the divergent replication forks of the ardC gene replicon. Finally, taking advantage of a restriction fragment length polymorphism, we studied allelic replicons and demonstrate similar localizations and a simultaneous firing of allelic replication origins. Computer search revealed a low level of homology between the promoters of ardB and ardC and, most notably, the absence of DNA sequences similar to the yeast autonomously replicating sequence consensus sequence in these Physarum origin regions. Our results with the ardB and ardC actin genes support the model of early replicating origins located within the promoter regions of abundantly transcribed genes in P. polycephalum.
Project description:A5'pppp5'A has been proposed to serve as a molecular signal that triggers DNA replication. When published methods proved to be inadequate for the assay of A5'pppp5'A in Physarum polycephalum by h.p.l.c. (high-pressure liquid chromatography), a set of purification procedures was developed that allowed assay of as little as 2pmol of A5'pppp5'A. A5'pppp5'A was purified from cellular extract by covalent boronate chromatography, treated with alkaline phosphatase to hydrolyse residual mononucleotides and analysed by isocratic ion-exchange h.p.l.c. The analysis was facilitated by a pre-column switching procedure that allowed early-eluted species to be diverted from the analytical column. By using this procedure A5'pppp5'A has been detected in Physarum polycephalum (1.4 pmol/mg of protein), Saccharomyces cerevisiae (3.6 pmol/mg of protein) and rat liver (3.3 pmol/mg of protein). In each case a minor peak was also seen, which was identified as A5'pppp5'G. The identity of both peaks was confirmed by co-elution with standards on isocratic and gradient h.p.l.c. and treatment with enzymes, including a dinucleoside polyphosphate pyrophosphohydrolase from Physarum polycephalum.
Project description:A fundamental question in nutritional biology is how distributed systems maintain an optimal supply of multiple nutrients essential for life and reproduction. In the case of animals, the nutritional requirements of the cells within the body are coordinated by the brain in neural and chemical dialogue with sensory systems and peripheral organs. At the level of an insect society, the requirements for the entire colony are met by the foraging efforts of a minority of workers responding to cues emanating from the brood. Both examples involve components specialized to deal with nutrient supply and demand (brains and peripheral organs, foragers and brood). However, some of the most species-rich, largest, and ecologically significant heterotrophic organisms on earth, such as the vast mycelial networks of fungi, comprise distributed networks without specialized centers: How do these organisms coordinate the search for multiple nutrients? We address this question in the acellular slime mold Physarum polycephalum and show that this extraordinary organism can make complex nutritional decisions, despite lacking a coordination center and comprising only a single vast multinucleate cell. We show that a single slime mold is able to grow to contact patches of different nutrient quality in the precise proportions necessary to compose an optimal diet. That such organisms have the capacity to maintain the balance of carbon- and nitrogen-based nutrients by selective foraging has considerable implications not only for our understanding of nutrient balancing in distributed systems but for the functional ecology of soils, nutrient cycling, and carbon sequestration.