Double-Ig slime-mold winner studies backwards-dead-end behavior of paramecia

nakagakiToshiyuki Nakagaki [pictured here], who has been awarded two Ig Nobel Prizes for studying the apparently intelligent behavior of slime mold, has (with colleagues) published a new study of apparently intelligent behavior in a very different creature:

Attempts to retreat from a dead-ended long capillary by backward swimming in Paramecium,” Itsuki Kunita, Shigeru Kuroda, Kaito Ohki and Toshiyuki Nakagaki, Frontiers in Microbiology, 5:270, epub May 16, 2014. The authors, at Hokkaido University and Future University Hakodate, Japan, report:

“It is not trivial to study how unicellular organisms tackle a problem, as they often try different behaviors instead of previously unsuccessful behaviors to solve dilemmas. One of the most important issues to be addressed here is what types of behavior can be induced and how such behavioral options appear in terms of information processing in the cell. It is interesting to identify whether mechanisms of information processing are based on mechanical equations of motion, because in some sense the physical basis of an adaptation or learning process could be suggested….

“We have observed how the ciliate Paramecium attempts to retreat from the dead-end of a long capillary that is too narrow for turning. After many trial-and-error episodes of short-term backward swimming (SBS), which is the conventional avoidance behavior exhibited in free swimming when an obstacle is faced, long-term backward swimming (LBS) that lasted five to ten times longer was developed. LBS may have a beneficial effect for complete withdrawal from the capillary space, although in our experiment it was impossible for the organism to do so due to the capillary length. In order to identify a physically possible mechanism for LBS, we propose model equations for the membrane potential of Hodgkin-Huxley type, which describe the control of ciliary movement.”

Here’s further detail from the study:


Nakagaki’s two Ig Nobel Prizes:

2010 TRANSPORTATION PLANNING PRIZE: Toshiyuki Nakagaki, Atsushi Tero, Seiji Takagi, Tetsu Saigusa, Kentaro Ito, Kenji Yumiki, Ryo Kobayashi of Japan, and Dan BebberMark Fricker of the UK, for using slime mold to determine the optimal routes for railroad tracks. REFERENCE: “Rules for Biologically Inspired Adaptive Network Design,” Atsushi Tero, Seiji Takagi, Tetsu Saigusa, Kentaro Ito, Dan P. Bebber, Mark D. Fricker, Kenji Yumiki, Ryo Kobayashi, Toshiyuki Nakagaki, Science, Vol. 327. no. 5964, January 22, 2010, pp. 439-42. VIDEO:

2008 COGNITIVE SCIENCE PRIZE. Toshiyuki Nakagaki of Hokkaido University, Japan, Hiroyasu Yamada of Nagoya, Japan, Ryo Kobayashi of Hiroshima University, Atsushi Tero of Presto JST, Akio Ishiguro of Tohoku University, and Ágotá Tóth of the University of Szeged, Hungary, for discovering that slime molds can solve puzzles. REFERENCE: “Intelligence: Maze-Solving by an Amoeboid Organism,” Toshiyuki Nakagaki, Hiroyasu Yamada, and Ágota Tóth, Nature, vol. 407, September 2000, p. 470. [VIDEO]

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