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How studying brainless slime mold could help better understand human intelligence – CBC.ca

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A study led by a northern Ontario scientist could lead to more insights into how humans and other living things think, and she used organisms without brains to come to her conclusions.

Nirosha Murugan, an assistant professor at Algoma University in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., had research published this week in the journal, Advanced Materials. It was from a study she conducted while working as a postdoctoral scholar at Allen Discovery Centre at Tufts University in Massachusetts.

The study looked at organisms called Physarum polycephalum, known colloquially as slime mold. It normally grows on forest floors or humid forest areas. 

Physarum polycephalum do not have brains, but Murugan’s tests showed that it does make decisions.

For the experiment the slime mold was put in petri dishes with a layer of gel. Clear glass discs of varying weights were placed at each end. Murugan says it took about 24-hours for the entire process, and for the first seven hours the physarum grew evenly in a ring shape.

“We attribute this to the physarum ‘thinking’ or buffering and once it kind of gets a good read out of what’s in its environment it kind of grows in a very stream-like process to the heavier mass,” she said.

Nirosha Murugan is an assistant professor in health sciences in the Department of Biology at Algoma University in Sault Ste. Marie. (Submitted by Nirosha Murugan)

Although Murugan was expecting the slime mold to make a decision, she said she did not anticipate how obvious the organism’s decision making would be. She explained that in a real world scenario a heavier mass in a forest environment would equate to more food for the physarum.

“If I was a slime mold growing on the forest floor, and I don’t have infinite time or energy to grow, I would try to make the most efficient decision — and the most efficient decision would be to grow towards the heavier mass which would likely be more food,” Murugan said.

“We also didn’t think that the physarum would do this thinking behaviour, where it kind of grows and sort of pulsates in a very even format before making a decision. That was very unexpected for us,” she said.

How slime mold can teach about intelligence 

Murugan says in the context of intelligence, the findings from the study are important because organisms without brains can still help scientists gain a better understanding of how human brains work.

“We’ve been studying the brain for a very long time and we don’t really understand the mechanisms or exactly how some of these processes happen, like intelligence or memory,” she said.

Murugan says the next steps in studying how the slime mold thinks and possibly predicting its behaviour in the future.

“Sort of like if I took an electrical signal off of your brain and I can predict what you are going to do, but in the physarum.”

Morning North5:33Finding intelligeance in organisms without a brain

Intelligence without brains? We heard about a study looking at how small brainless organisms are able to think and make decisions. We spoke with the first author of the study, Nirosha Murugan. She is now an assistant professor at Algoma University. 5:33

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Buck Moon rises over Oshawa harbour – insauga.com

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July’s orange- or yellow-tinted full moon – known as a Buck Moon – arrived at 10:36 p.m. Friday night.

It’s called the Buck Moon because the antlers of male deer are in full-growth mode at this time.

Indigenous people of Canada have several other names for the phenomenon, including Berry Moon (Anishinabe), Feather Moulting Moon (Cree), Salmon Moon, (Tlingit) and Raspberry Moon (Algonquin, Ojibwe).

The full moon can be viewed in all its glory until tomorrow night.

Photo: Colin Ryan

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NASA clears Boeing Starliner for July 30th test flight to ISS – Yahoo Movies Canada

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More than 18 months after its failed first attempt to make it to the International Space Station, Boeing’s Starliner is ready for a second shot. Following a flight readiness review, NASA is moving forward with the craft’s upcoming July 30th uncrewed orbital flight test. Unless there’s an unforeseen delay, the capsule will launch from the Space Force’s Cape Canaveral Station mounted on an Atlas V rocket at 2:53PM ET. Should NASA postpone the flight, it will again attempt to carry out the test on August 3rd at the earliest.

The purpose of the flight is for NASA to conduct an end-to-end test of Starliner’s capabilities. It wants to know if the capsule can handle every aspect of a trip to the ISS, including launch, docking as well as atmospheric re-entry. “[Orbital Flight Test-2] will provide valuable data that will help NASA certify Boeing’s crew transportation system to carry astronauts to and from the space station,” the agency said.

If the flight is a success, NASA will move forward with a crewed test of the Starliner. Steve Stich, commercial crew program manager at NASA, said that could happen “as soon as later this year.” Both Boeing and NASA have a lot invested in the viability of Starliner. For the aerospace company, its decision not to conduct an end-to-end test of the craft before its failed 2019 flight left the agency “surprised,” leading to questions about the project. Meanwhile, NASA is keen to have two capsules that can ferry its astronauts to the ISS. Right now, it’s limited to just SpaceX’s Crew Dragon. “It’s very important for the commercial crew program to have two space transportation systems,” Stich told reporters.

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SpaceX lands NASA launch contract for mission to Jupiter's moon Europa – Euronews

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By Steve Gorman

LOSANGELES – Elon Musk’s private rocket company SpaceX was awarded a $178 million launch services contract for NASA‘s first mission focusing on Jupiter’s icy moon Europa and whether it may host conditions suitable for life, the space agency said on Friday.

The Europa Clipper mission is due for blastoff in October 2024 on a Falcon Heavy rocket owned by Musk’s company, Space Exploration Technologies Corp, from NASA‘s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, NASA said in a statement posted online.

The contract marked NASA‘s latest vote of confidence in the Hawthorne, California-based company, which has carried several cargo payloads and astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA in recent years.

In April, SpaceX was awarded a $2.9 billion contract to build the lunar lander spacecraft for the planned Artemis program that would carry NASA astronauts back to the moon for the first time since 1972.

But that contract was suspended after two rival space companies, Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin and defense contractor Dynetics Inc, protested against the SpaceX selection.

The company’s partly reusable 23-story Falcon Heavy, currently the most powerful operational space launch vehicle in the world, flew its first commercial payload into orbit in 2019.

NASA did not say what other companies may have bid on the Europa Clipper launch contract.

The probe is to conduct a detailed survey of the ice-covered Jovian satellite, which is a bit smaller than Earth’s moon and is a leading candidate in the search for life elsewhere in the solar system.

A bend in Europa’s magnetic field observed by NASA‘s Galileo spacecraft in 1997 appeared to have been caused by a geyser gushing through the moon’s frozen crust from a vast subsurface ocean, researchers concluded in 2018. Those findings supported other evidence of Europa plumes.

Among the Clipper mission’s objectives are to produce high-resolution images of Europa’s surface, determine its composition, look for signs of geologic activity, measure the thickness of its icy shell and determine the depth and salinity of its ocean, NASA said.

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