Scientists Sent the World’s Weirdest ‘Blob’ to the ISS

This 'intelligent' single-cell organism evades classification.
Derya Ozdemir

If there's one species that can rival the tardigrade when it comes to resumes, it's the Blob.

Don't be fooled by its humble name -- formally known as Physarum polycephalum, it is almost an alien on its own planet since it cannot be classified as a plant, animal, or fungus. Scientists have been fascinated for years by this single-cell slime mold, which has more than 720 sexes and can mend itself, smells and finds food, and even solves mazes. And now, following tardigrades and glow-in-the-dark squid, it can finally write on its CV that it has launched on a space mission.

As part of an ESA investigation dubbed Blob, scientists launched the Blob to the International Space Station (ISS), and it has recently arrived at its destination thanks to Northrop Grumman's Cygnus NG-16 spacecraft, which docked with the ISS, delivering fuel, food, as well as the mold. 

The Blob experiment

To be fair, the Blob, with its yellowish, spongy bulk, doesn't appear to be much. It doesn't have a mouth, legs, or a brain, but it's still capable of growing, moving, and learning. It can also go dormant state by dehydrating, in a process known as "sclerotia." Thanks to the mission Blob, ISS scientists now have four sclerotia parts cut from the same strain, each about the size of the average pinky fingernail, available for scientific research.

When September arrives, four sclerotia will be rehydrated and roused from their slumber in Petri-dish beds. In the experiments, the samples will go through two procedures: Some of them will be denied nourishment, while others will be able to feast themselves on porridge oats.

The goal here is to observe how weightlessness affects this organism, and in fact, all of this will be an educational experience. Overall, the project is designed to be a gigantic school experiment that extends into space, with no scientific articles expected as part of the program's concept.

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As the ISS experiments take place in the sky above, more than 350,000 students will have the opportunity to get themselves familiar with the Blob since thousands of specimens cut from the same strain will be given to around 4,500 schools and colleges throughout France.

When the ISS scientists rehydrate the sections of Blob, the same thing will be done on Earth, and this will be the beginning of observations involving the variations in how the samples in space adapt compared with those on Earth.

Scientists believe this will may cast some light on key questions concerning the fundamental building blocks of life and hope to send more sections to the ISS in future missions, especially if they show unexpected behavior while there.

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