Sunday, March 29, 2009

More awareness then we had thought?

Still on travel, but I didn't want to let this story slip through the cracks:

After producing superlatives like the world’s biggest statue of a jackrabbit and the nation’s most unpopular modern-day president, Texas can now boast what may be its most bizarre and undoubtedly its slimiest topper yet: the world’s largest known colony of clonal amoebas.

Scientists found the vast and sticky empire stretching 40 feet across, consisting of billions of genetically identical single-celled individuals, oozing along in the muck of a cow pasture outside Houston...

Scientists say the discovery is much more than a mere curiosity, because the colony consists of what are known as social amoebas. Only an apparent oxymoron, social amoebas are able to gather in organized groups and behave cooperatively, some even committing suicide to help fellow amoebas reproduce. The discovery of such a huge colony of genetically identical amoebas provides insight into how such cooperation and sociality might have evolved and may help to explain why microbes are being found to show social behaviors more often than was expected...

Meanwhile, as impressive (or even threatening) as a colony of a couple billion amoebas might sound, it has turned out to be surprisingly fragile.

“Just one week later, it had rained a lot and then it basically was gone,” Mr. Gilbert said.

Apparently, such is the fleeting nature of grand amoebic phenomena, for the Texas clone is not the first to dwindle inexplicably into nothingness. Scientists say that the last traces of what at one point may have been the world’s largest individual amoeba — and the star of a highly productive research program — shriveled in their laboratory last summer until it disappeared.

So even though their existence is fleeting, is it the case these animals also exhibit to some extent altriustic behavior?

BTW, evidently these things can be up to 0.8mm in length, or about 0.031 inches.

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