The so-called cellular slime mold, a unicellular organism that may transition into a multicellular organism under stress, has just been found to have a tissue structure that was previously thought to exist only in more sophisticated animals. What's more, two proteins that are needed by the slime mold to form this structure are similar to those that perform the same function in more sophistical animals.
Shortly after an animal embryo forms, it develops a single layer of cells that, shaped like a hollow ball, is empty at its center. Acting as a kind of "man behind the curtain" that directs these cells to organize into this hollow formation are several proteins that help each cell touch its neighbors but keep its top surface exposed to the formation's empty interior.
Even after animals grow beyond the embryo stage, the cells in many organs of their bodies maintain this type of hollow structure. These organs include those in the digestive tracts of animals, which feature a layer of cells, called epithelial cells, that face inward to form a hollow structure and are shaped asymmetrically to give organs their directionality. For example, the asymmetric epithelial cells of animal intestines face inward to form a hollow structure through which nutrients are absorbed. Likewise, the asymmetric epithelial cells of animal glands, such as salivary and endocrine glands, also face inward to form a hollow structure. But instead of absorbing substances as do the epithelial cells of animal intestines, these glandular epithelial cells secrete into their hollow structure substances that they produce.
With funding from the National Science Foundation, Daniel Dickinson, W. James Nelson and William Weis--all of Stanford University--took a careful look at the final, mature stage of slime mold development under a high-powered microscope. They report their results in the journal Science, March 11, 2011.
The slime mold spends most of its life as
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National Science Foundation