A new experiment shows that amoebas will slow their motion in synch with periodic adverse changes in their environment, and will, as if in anticipation, even slow down when the adverse condition is not delivered. A team of scientists from Hokkaido University and the ATR Wave Engineering Laboratories in Japan cultured the single-celled slime mold Physarum polycephalum (a member of the amoeba clan) in a bed of oat flakes on agar. Every ten minutes the air was made slightly cooler and drier, which had the effect of slowing the movement of the amoebas down a narrow lane. Then more favorable air would be restored and the motion continued as before.
After several cycles, the amoebas slowed even when the adverse conditions did not materialize. Later still, when the organisms have been tricked into anticipating impending climate change several times, they refrain from slowing without an actual change in conditions. One of the researchers, Toshiyuki Nakagaki from Hokkaido (firstname.lastname@example.org), cautions that amoebas do not have a brain and that this is not example of classic “Pavlovian” conditioned response behavior. Nevertheless, it might represent more evidence for a primitive sensitivity or “intelligence” based on the dynamic behavior of the tubular structures deployed by the amoeba. (Saigusa et al., Physical Review Letters;11 January 2008)