Having become very popular thanks to his trip to space with Thomas Pesquet aboard the International Space Station (ISS), the spot is currently the subject of a participatory scientific program of the CNRS.
Since last April, volunteers have been carrying out scientific experiments on the spot. 14,000 participants from all walks of life, from the general public to schools, laboratories, nursing homes and prisons, are experimenting with the effects of climate change, in particular the variation of heat, in two species of spots . 95% of the participants live in France, the rest are in Belgium, Switzerland, Canada, Japan, Australia… To better understand the interest of this participatory science program, we talked to Audrey Dussutour –also known as Doctor Drey on social media –, director of research. at the CNRS in Toulouse. After “Everything you always wanted to know about the blob but were afraid to ask” In Éditions J’ai Lu, the great French blob specialist publishes her diary “I drop » Posted by HumenSciences.
Engineering techniques: Why did you launch this participatory scientific program on the stain and global warming?
Audrey Dussutour: This program has several objectives. The first is to develop people’s critical thinking, because most of them don’t know how to do science. And the covid crisis has shown us well: we hear about everything and nothing. Thus we have explained the scientific approach with the steps to follow to do real science. Then the second is to raise awareness about global warming: people simulate heat waves at home and see that the gout is not doing very well. And the last objective is to advance knowledge, because we are going to make a publication based on the actionable data -we know that the variability will be enormous- of the experiments.
Why the stain?
It’s simple, I’m working on the blob! (laughs). It is easy to breed and can be mailed. He also has extraordinary abilities and is a great passion for the general public. People will be able to keep it, put it back to sleep, and do other experiments out of curiosity. Also, since it is not an animal, there is no ethical problem. It is a primitive unicellular organism present in France. This is also the reason why some countries, and even French departments like Réunion, could not participate in the experiment, because the sent species is not present there and we did not want to do any species introduction.
Are there other species of spots in these countries?
Yes ! And that’s a shame, because someone was supposed to provide us with cash, but in the end we didn’t. A species that I did not know in other places. But producing many blobs is not that easy. It took us 8 months at peak times!
You want to advance your knowledge with this program, but is there any information you already know about the effect of global warming on the blob?
Yes, and we present to the volunteers the results of the bibliography that we carry out on the effects of heat on Physarium polycephalum. We know, for example, that it progresses more slowly, that beyond 42°C it dies… But the scientists who carried out the study did not do it in the long term. In our experiments, we oscillated the temperature between 19 and 32°C. Our goal is not to kill gout! What interests us is to see how the blob reacts to this temperature variation as well as its ability to return to its normal state at each end of the protocol, that is, at room temperature.
Is this something you already know?
No, not really. In the program we have 15 protocols to carry out in 8 different strains. In the lab, we had only done one protocol and on only a few strains. It is unknown if he is able to return to his normal self. What we do know, however, is that the temperature change is quite obvious in the spot. Participants immediately realize the effects of rising temperatures on living things, and yet we only go up a few degrees…
And in nature? For a hot climate, does this mean that this type of organism could not survive?
In reality, the spot has been there for almost a billion years and has some means of resistance. You can sit idle and wait for conditions to improve. However, what is most difficult for the blob – and this is what we are trying to show in the experiment – is the changes. It’s not really the fact that it’s 25 or 30°C, but the difference in temperature. For example: in the morning, if it is 15°C, the stain will wake up. But if it’s 35°C in the afternoon, it won’t have time to grow and it will die. Going from 25 to 28°C doesn’t change much for him. From 20 to 35°C yes… The idea is to explain that. Because many times, when we talk about global warming, people focus on the idea that the temperature on the Earth’s surface will increase 1.5° in the best case, but it’s not actually going from 32 to 33.5, it’s a average . The worst are the changes.
Is it the same for the cold?
Yes, the blob is not resistant below 4°, so it can freeze to death. To fully understand, gout lives in temperate forests. It is an organism that we will observe in spring if the temperatures are mild, around 20°C. It feeds on fungi and bacteria in nature. It has a relatively short life: it takes between 1 and 4 weeks to reach maturity, or about 20 cm². If during these weeks of growth a heat stroke occurs and the gout has not had time to go back to sleep -because it takes 36 hours-, it will die before entering a dormant state. Once asleep, you may experience temperatures ranging from -80°C to +60°C.
Can the conclusions drawn for the blob be valid for other organisms?
Yes, what is true for the spot is true for other organisms in reality. The problem with all environmental changes is that species have to adapt. But if a species fails to adapt, it may be missed by another species that manages to adapt and feed on it. If the stain disappears, it means that the bacteria and fungi will not be eaten by the stain, but will accumulate. You should never view species individually, because all species are linked together in a network.
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