A Brainless Blob That Can Think Is Being Sent to Space to See What Happens

Scientists will feed the slime its favorite food (oats) and observe microgravity's effects on its exploration behavior and growth.
August 3, 2021, 1:00pm
A Brainless Blob That Can Think Is Being Sent to Space to See What Happens
Preflight photo of the Blob in its "blob box." Image:  CBI/CRCA/CNES/CNRS Photothèque/David VILLA / ScienceImage, 2021
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A slime mold known as the Blob will be launched to the International Space Station, where scientists will study how microgravity impacts the single celled organisms’ capabilities.

The Blob is also known as Physarum polycephalum, and the yellow mold has become of immense interest to scientists studying animal cognition because of how it can think, make decisions, sleep, learn, and even navigate a maze despite not having a brain.  It has even been found to adapt and transmit knowledge to other slime molds.

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The Blob will be launched on the Northrop Grumman’s 16th commercial resupply services mission on August 10th, along with several other science experiments that will also take place aboard the ISS.

The Blob experiment aboard the ISS is an educational investigation carried out by the National Centre for Space Studies in partnership with the French Center for Scientific Research and the European Space Agency. 

European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet will be tasked with awakening the Blob with a couple of drops of water once it makes it to the ISS. The goal of the experiment is to observe how microgravity impacts the Blob’s behavior towards its food, which is oats, and its environment. Using videos automatically recorded aboard the ISS, students ages 10-18 years old from 5,000 schools will compare the findings concluded from samples here on Earth against those found in the space station. 

According to Dr. Audrey Dussutour, a slime mold specialist and director of research at the French National Center for Scientific Research, the Blob’s growth and behavior will be observed over seven days after which it will go into a dormant state and stay aboard the ISS. 

In addition to investigating what happens to a weirdly intelligent brainless blob in space, the experiment’s aim is to promote the sciences to students and to demonstrate how scientists conduct research in space.

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“Our aim is to investigate the effect of microgravity on slime mold behavior, especially exploration behavior but also growth,” Dr. Dussutour said during a press conference on Monday. “But the real main objective of this project is to engage kids in interesting, exciting scientific experiments.”

“Blob is a unique experience that stimulates student curiosity about themes such as the impact of the environment on organisms and the development of living organisms,” Evelyne Cortiade-Marché, head of the CNES education department, said in a press release. 

The Blob experiment will also be joined aboard the mission by the Redwire Regolith Print study, which will demonstrate 3D printing on the space station using a material that resembles regolith, or loose soil found on planets such as the Moon.

Another experiment aboard the Northrup mission will determine whether microgravity can be used to research sarcopenia, or the gradual loss of muscle mass that occurs over decades here on Earth, since microgravity accelerates the process.

These experiments are the most recent experiments to be sent to the orbiting laboratory, which recently celebrated twenty years of human habitation.