Scientists Catch Slimes Learning, Even Though They Have 0 Neurons
Scientists show that brainless organisms can somehow learn and share knowledge.
We generally assume thought and memory occur within the brain's neurons, but there are some examples in nature that make us wonder if that's really the only place they reside. Trained flatworms, for example, who've been decapitated retain their training in the new heads (and brains) they grow, suggesting that their acquired knowledge is somehow encoded in other body cells from where it can be retrieved. Even more intriguingly, researchers at Toulouse University's Research Centre on Animal Cognition (CNRS) in France demonstrated last April that a type of slime mold also has a memory and can learn, even though it has no brain at all. “Tantalizing results suggest that the hallmarks for learning can occur at the level of single cells," said the teams' study published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Even more surprising is the researchers' new report that one brainless slime can convey its knowledge to another brainless slime, as revealed in a paper published December 21.
The knowledge the slimes impart is “habituated learning," in which behavior changes over time in response to a repeated stimulus, in this case an irritating obstacle. At first repulsed by it, the slime eventually learns it can tolerate the irritation.
The slime mold in question is Physarum polycephalum, sometimes referred to as the “many-headed slime." It's a weird, yellow, blob-like organism of P. polycephalum cells, and it crawls from place to place on pseudopods, finger-like protrusions. In nature, Physarum polycephalum likes cool, damp places like rotting leaves and tree trunks.
Physarum polycephalum (AUDREY DUSSUTOUR)
When two of these slimes come in contact, they fuse into a single Physarum polycephalum.
Learning Without a Brain
To see if this slime could learn, they grew multiple Physarum polycephalum organisms in Petri dishes of agar, a common gel-culturing medium derived from algae. Next to each slime they placed another dish containing “food," a mix of oats and agar, and constructed an agar bridge over which the slime could travel to a meal. It took under two hours for each of the slimes to learn to get to their oat mix.
The researchers next put irritants in the slime's way — mild concentrations of quinine, caffeine, or salt that were bitter to the slime but not damaging. The slimes at first recoiled from the irritants and the bridges altogether before finding ways through narrow evasive pathways around them, taking about three times as long to get to get across the bridges to their food. After a few days, though, the slimes were again crossing their bridges quickly, suggesting habituation: They'd come to “understand" and learn that the irritants posed no real threat.
Knowledge Passed Among the Brainless
Salt crystals (ROGER AHLBRAND)
The new study involved 2,000 slime molds who were habituated to salt on their bridges, and 2,000 who were free to pass over their bridges to their food unimpeded.
The researchers then grouped the slimes to create pairs:
• Habituated — two slimes that were both habituated to the salt
• Naive — two slimes that hadn't been exposed or habituated to salt
• Mixed — one habituated slime paired with a slime that had never experienced salt
Each pair was allowed to come in contact and fuse, creating new habituated, naive, and mixed Physarum polycephalum. Each was then presented with a salted bridge across which its oat mix awaited.
The researchers were surprised to find that the mixed slimes moved over and past the salt just as quickly as the habituated slimes, suggesting that the habituation had propagated throughout the new mixed Physarum polycephalum. (The naive slimes recoiled from the salt and then moved slowly around it as one would expect.) They then repeated the tests with new slimes fused from as many as four organisms, and found that even in mixes of three naive and one habituated slime, the resulting organism still knew the salt was no threat.
As a final test, the team separated fused slimes to try and ascertain how long the knowledge transfer was taking. Naive slime split away from habituated partners one hour after fusion retained an aversion to salt. After three hours, though, separated naive slimes were clearly no longer naive, climbing right over their salted bridged to dinner — they'd learned habituation from their former partners. One other thing: slimes fused for three hours grew a vein at the point of contact between them.
The scientists suspect this is the channel through which the habituated learning is passing between slimes, even if we don't yet understand quite how.
The two studies' implications for learning and memory are enormous. While there's no way yet to know if any of the observed phenomenon also occur in humans, it's nonetheless clear that at least some sort of memory can reside in cells other than neurons. At least in slime.
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A strange weakness in the Earth's protective magnetic field is growing and possibly splitting, shows data.
- "The South Atlantic Anomaly" in the Earth's magnetic field is growing and possibly splitting, shows data.
- The information was gathered by the ESA's Swarm Constellation mission satellites.
- The changes may indicate the coming reversal of the North and South Poles.
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"Nothing but naked people: fat ones, thin ones, old, young…"
"The Yellow Sands", 1888, John Reinhard Weguelin; source: Wikimedia Commons<h3>Naked revolution</h3><p>Yet long before anyone knew about beach fashion, naturism was trendy. Bathing naked in the sea was going on in England as early as 1840. However, during the reign of Queen Victoria, this pleasure was outlawed. But it popped up again among the conservative Germans. In 1898, the first Naturist Club was founded in Essen and in 1900 the Wandering Birds group (<em>Wandervögel</em>) was scouring the country for uninhabited places and naked sunbathing. In the same year, Heinrich Pudor wrote <em>The C</em><em>ult of </em><em>the </em><em>Nud</em><em>e</em>, winning the hearts of contemporary supporters of naturism.</p><p>In the 1920s, on the back of this, members of the Movement for Natural Healing (<em>Naturheilbewegung</em>) organized naked sunbathing for the improvement of health. Persuaded by Pudor's theory of the healing properties of the sun and wind, which could be absorbed through the skin, they launched the naked revolution.</p><p>Pudor's book became the naturists' manifesto and soon after, not far from Hamburg, the Free Body Culture (<em>Freikörperkultur</em>, or FKK) movement was founded. This spread through other German centres and brought together thousands of people. The FKK still operates under the same name today.</p><p>The cult of the naked body even wrote itself into the ideology of fascist Germany, which advocated a pure, Aryan race. But in 1933, Hermann Göring issued an order that defined nudity as "the greatest threat to the German soul" and, with that, criminalized naturist organizations. But this wasn't the end of the movement. The naturists went underground, continuing their activities under the guise of improving physical fitness.</p><p>In 1936, the idea was even floated of having a naturist display to open the Berlin Olympic Games. It was quickly dropped. Despite this, in 1939 the naturists managed to organize their own Games in the Swiss village of Thielle.</p>
Would you ever have sex with a robot?
- In 2016, "Harmony", the world's first AI sex robot was designed by a tech firm called Realbotix.
- According to 2020 survey data, more than one in five Americans (22 percent) say they would consider having sex with a robot. This is an increase from a survey conducted in 2017.
- Robots (and robotic tech) already play a vital role in speeding up manufacturing, packaging, and processing across various industries.
From homemade dildos to Harmony, the AI sex robot<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="3f7451615568e74c6a839f04329c9902"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/-cN8sJz50Ng?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p><em>"...amid an economic crisis, with restaurants and retailers closing their doors and larger companies laying off and furloughing employees, the sex tech industry is booming."</em><br></p><p>A Bustle <a href="https://www.bustle.com/wellness/the-sex-tech-industry-is-booming-amid-economic-crisis-22819801" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">article</a> published in April 2020, weeks after COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, explored the drastic boost in the sex tech industry. According to the research, <a href="https://www.dameproducts.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Dame Products</a> (a popular sex toy retailer) experienced a 30 percent increase in sales between the months of February to April, and popular sexual wellness brand <a href="https://unboundbabes.com/?utm_source=%7Bsource%7D&utm_medium=%7Bmedium%7D&utm_keyword=unbound%20babes&utm_matchtype=e&device=c&utm_campaign=%7Bcampaign%7D&utm_adgroup=%7Badgroup%7D&gclid=CjwKCAjw1v_0BRAkEiwALFkj5qYbdEwANUjCdRkCeVZ2HZzHjcGmpYbsOXYcMcNneLc2nySvrbaalBoChEsQAvD_BwE" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Unbound</a> reported selling twice as many toys as normal in this period.</p><p>While the new coronavirus was crashing the economy in other ways, the sex tech industry was one of the few that actually saw improvements, likely due to people all over the world being advised, encouraged, and in some instances forced to stay at home.</p><p>Something similar happened in 2008, <a href="https://www.villagevoice.com/2010/08/23/the-great-recession-is-a-turn-on-for-the-sex-toy-industry/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">during the recession</a>: the sex toy industry was one of the only industries at the time that didn't gravely suffer. </p><p><strong>The evolution of sex tech from stone dildos to artificial intelligence.</strong></p><p><a href="https://sofiagray.com/what-is-the-history-of-sex-toys-from-stone-to-silicone-and-beyond/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The history of sex toys</a> is quite interesting. A 28,000-year-old siltstone dildo was uncovered in Germany in 2005. Luxury bronze dildos have also been found in China that are at least 2,000 years old.</p><p>Aside from various materials being shaped into dildos, there has always been an interest in how to advance sex technology, even before it involved actual technology at all.</p><ul><li>The 1700s: Steam-powered vibrators (such as the Manipulator).</li><li>The 1800s—1900s: The invention of the first electric vibrator (the Pulsoson) and "beauty tools" being used for sexual satisfaction (such as the Polar Cub massager)</li><li>The 1920s—1940s: The introduction of hand-held massagers (the Andis Vibrator) and compact devices (such as the Oster Stim-U-Lax)</li><li>The 1940s—1960s: Japan introduced the "Cadillac of Vibrators" (The Hitachi Magic Wand), which eventually made it's way to America.</li><li>1965: The invention of silicone, which most modern sex toys are made of.</li><li>The 1980s—1990s: The invention of the rabbit-style vibrator, made more popular with one of the first showings of a sex toy on television ("Sex and the City"). </li><li>The 2000s: Visual porn website Pornhub launched and sex toys became increasingly popular. Erotic literature also became more common and popular, with "50 Shades of Grey" and others like it. </li><li>The 2010s and beyond: Sex toys and technology start to blend, and the world's first internet-controlled sex toy was launched in 2010 by Lovense.</li></ul><p>In 2016, "Harmony", <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-cN8sJz50Ng" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the world's first AI sex robot</a> was designed by a tech firm called Realbotix. </p>
From television shows to real-life applications, artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming more and more popular in all areas of human life.
Credit: Willyam Bradberry on Shutterstock<p>In 2020, more than one in five Americans (22 percent) say they would consider having sex with a robot. <a href="https://today.yougov.com/topics/science/articles-reports/2020/03/19/2020-both-men-and-women-are-more-likely-consider-h" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">YouGov conducted a study</a> in February 2020 that compared results from a similar study from 2017.<br></p><p>According to the results, 6 percent more people in 2020 are comfortable with the idea of having sex with a robot than in 2017.</p><p>YouGov points out that the increase in consideration is particularly significant among American adults between the ages of 18-34 years old. Additionally, how people feel about having sex with a robot has also changed. In 2020, 27 percent of Americans said they would consider it cheating if they had a partner who had sex with a robot during the relationship, compared to the 32 percent reported in 2017.</p><p><strong>"If you had a partner who had sex with a robot, would you consider it cheating?"</strong></p><p>The results from this interesting study also reveal that many people (42 percent) believe having sex with a robot is safer than having sex with a human stranger.</p><p>Robots (and robotic tech) already play a vital role in speeding up manufacturing, packaging, and processing across various industries. From television shows to real-life applications, artificial intelligence is becoming more and more popular in all areas of human life.</p><p>According to YouGov, "a <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-07-12/amazon-plans-high-end-echo-ramps-up-work-on-alexa-home-robot" target="_blank">Bloomberg</a> report outlining Amazon's plans for an Alexa-powered robot that follows and helps you around the home may redefine how these machines service humans in the near future." </p>