Blob seeks family for scientific experiment (but not desperately)

Do you know the blob? This unicellular organism is often defined in the negative. If he spoke he would say: “I am neither an animal, nor a plant, nor a mushroom. Who am I ?“. And if he continued, he would say:”I am… A unicellular organism which belongs to the kingdom of the amoebozoa and to the class of the myxomycetes“.

You would say: “But still ?“and he would answer you:”My scientific name is physarum polycephalum“. You would ask him where he lives, and he would confess to you that he is found in forests, sheltered from light, in the litter of dead leaves, under the bark of dead trees.

The climate and the blob

But why are you talking about the blob? Because the CNRS, the National Center for Scientific Research in France, is looking for 10,000 adopters for this yellow organism, in order to participate in a collective citizen scientific experiment, unique in its kind. “Behind the blob, the search“is a participatory science project open to all French or Belgian volunteers, who want to discover by practice how a scientific experiment is carried out. The research question, in this case is” what are the effects of climate change on the blob ? “.

To participate, you must be at least 8 years old and commit for a week to a month, to welcome a blob and to hydrate it, to feed it, and to simulate heat waves by varying the temperature at different frequencies and intensities. . All the data will be collected and analyzed by the team at the CNRS Animal Cognition Research Center (CBI). A participatory and climatic scientific experiment.

Audrey Dussutour, project leader and ethologist at the CNRS, explains the dual purpose of the project: “The first thing is to introduce the scientific approach to many citizens, whether it is how we establish a protocol, how we carry out experiments, in a controlled manner, the repeatability of the experiments … Then, they will even be accompanied during data analysis, we will do it together, and then we will even write the article together. Me, I’ll write, but it will be on an online file where people can follow what I do, I will explain as I go. And then, I even hope to create an event around the article submission. The second is of course to make people aware of global warming by experiencing it themselves on an organism which is still more or less endearing, because we get attached very quickly to the blob strangely … is a bit of a special organism… It’s really a pretty primitive organism, and yet people get attached to it because it has a certain behavioral complexity despite its simplicity. People really care about it, and so we thought “this is the perfect organism for people to experience the effects that global warming can have on a living organism.“.

Oatmeal (not organic)

The blob feeds in nature on bacteria from fungi. But at home, during the experiment, it will have to be fed with … oatmeal. All the participants will have to use the same brand, because for the record, the blob does not appreciate the organic, the oats not being treated, it contains small pathogens that it does not like.

A control group

The participants will have to organize the experiment by each having their own control group: a blob not subjected to temperature variations, and simply at room temperature, and another, conditioned for changes according to a precise protocol. The conclusions could be very interesting, according to Audrey Dussutour: “Often times, global warming, we think it’s just an increase of one and a half degrees… The problem is that it’s not just this average increase, but in fact temperature changes that are very violent. . This year, we have recovered amplitudes that are 18 to 33 degrees at once. And that, for organisms like the blob, is really fundamental, because the blob knows how to go dormant when the conditions are not great, and wait for the conditions to improve, but to go into dormancy, it has need 2 or 3 days to… If we have changes of 18 to 33 degrees, it is not going to survive. What we hope to show in this study is that the importance is not just an increase in temperature, but that it is really the temperature dynamics that will have an effect on the blob..”

Already in space

The CNRS had already launched an experiment on the blob, in collaboration with the National Center for Space Studies (CNES), by sending 4 copies into space with Thomas Pesquet, on board the International Space Station, and by equipping schools , to reproduce the experience on earth. Faced with the request of other citizens, associations, nursing homes who could not enter the project, the center decided to launch this new experience: “Behind the blob, the search“.

The inscriptions to the experience “Behind the blob, the search“are open on the CNRS website until November 12. The scientific publication should appear at the end of the data collection and analysis, at the end of 2022.

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