Airdate: Sep 22, 2009
Scientist: Dr. Christopher Viney
KSC Biomimicry - Reading Slug Slime
In the slug world, much can be gleaned from the trail of slime a slug leaves behind.
music; ambience train
Suppose you're at a train station and want to know when the last train passed through, and which direction it was heading in. Now imagine having the ability to obtain that information simply by looking at the track. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet. Well, did you ever see those trails of slime that slugs leave behind? Well, it turns out that one slug can 'read' another slug's slime trail. Christopher Viney is an engineer at the University of California in Merced.
CV: "A slug crawls across the room from left to right and leaves a trail. And the second slug comes up to that first trail. And that slug can read information out of the first trail can tell in what direction the first trail was laid. Was it left to right or right to left? The second slug can also tell how recently that trail was laid. And that can be important because the second slug might want to follow the trail to find the first slug to either eat it or mate with it, and there's no point in following a trail that was laid down, you know, last week. It has to be a fairly fresh trail. And now imagine-slugs, one of their many characteristics is that they change their gender. They're male for a bit. Then, they can turn into female. They can turn back into a male. And when they mate, they actually are both male. The two male slugs will exchange sperm, and then they crawl off. They each become a female, and they fertilize themselves with the sperm that they collected when they mated. That means that the slug has to know which way the first one went, how recently, and whether it's the right gender."
Understanding a slug's ability to store and retrieve information at a molecular level could lead to significant advances in computer technology, not to mention expanding our conception of gender roles.
Christopher Viney is one of the participants in the Kids' Science Challenge, our nationwide competition for third to sixth graders, made possible by the National Science Foundation. A new season launches October first at kidsciencechallenge.com.
I'm Jim Metzner.