Single-Celled Organisms Have Displayed Fascinating Learning Abilities

Science is hope. I believe that whole-heartedly. After all, this discovery alone gives tons of hope to several human beings out there. Do not give hope! If single-celled organisms displayed some form of intelligence, then there’s definitely yet hope for you!

According to Science Daily, a group of scientists recently decided to test out the learning abilities of a simple organism, the protist, or slime mold, and they were fascinated by the outcome. Turns out, it exhibits of form of learning known as habituation. So the scientists at the Centre de Recherches sur la Cognition Animal at the Universite Toulouse III, exposed 4 groups of slime mold to different situations, sort of like an obstacle course. The slime mold was surprisingly endowed with some amazing learning skills, such as solving a maze, avoiding traps, and optimizing nutrition.

So the four slime mold groups were exposed to a 9-day challenge that included obstacles from difficult but harmless substances to pass in order to reach their food. Two groups were confronted by a bridge with quinine, one group was confronted with caffeine, and the last was the control group. At first, the three groups seemed hesitant to pass through the substance; however, they gradually learned that the substance was harmless and by day 6, they were passing the substance as fast as the control group. This, according to the scientists, is habituation. Then, after 2 days without contact with the obstacle they returned to the initial state of distrust. Furthermore, the habituation of the slime mold was substance specific; meaning, the slime mold that was habituated to caffeine showed distrust to quinine, and vice versa.

This form of learning exists in all animals, but it is the first time that it is observed in non-neural organisms. Learning and memory are key skills for every animal to survive in a fluctuating and often dangerous environment. However, prior to this study, any learning skills were associated with organisms that were endowed with a brain and a nervous system. This discovery will help scientists shed some life on the origins of learning, in the times billions of years ago, when we also were brainless. Furthermore, it will help scientists figure out whether other single-celled organisms, such as viruses and bacteria, also possess the same learning ability.