Animal minds Cell biology Design inference Intelligent Design

Researchers: Diatoms demonstrate “behavioral biology”

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Diatoms through the microscope.jpg
marine diatoms/Gordon T. Taylor, Stony Brook University

From ScienceDaily:

Unicellular diatoms are able to adapt their behavior to different external stimuli based on an evaluation of their own needs. This was discovered by scientists of the Friedrich Schiller University and the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Jena, Germany, together with partners from Belgium. The algae depend on nutrients in order to reproduce. However, they also need sexual mates which they find when they follow pheromone traces. In experiments, Seminavis robusta diatoms directed their orientation either towards nutrient sources or mating partners, depending on the degree of starvation and the need to mate. The tiny organisms demonstrated in fact a primitive form of behavioral biology.

“It is striking that even unicellular organisms that obviously lack a nervous system can process different stimuli and even evaluate their individual needs. Our study showed that diatoms can adapt their behavior flexibly to environmental changes. They also responded differently depending on their need to sexually mate. We observed that the diatoms moved towards pheromones or food sources depending on how hungry they were for sex or nutrients. Until now, this kind of decision-making has only been attributed to higher organisms,” study leader Georg Pohnert summarizes the results.

The decision of one diatom does not only determine the fate of a single cell. Moreover, it is crucial for the dynamics of biofilms which is composed of communities of countless diatoms. Using mathematical models, the researchers calculated interactions between cell density and the availability of nutrients (silicate minerals) and mating partners (pheromones). Based on these results, the scientists are able to better explain how biofilms are organized and why they are often patchy and show certain patterns.

The scientist would now like to find out how the single-cell organisms perceive, process and evaluate chemical signals. “Our goal is to identify the corresponding receptors and signal processing pathways, but this will be a very complex endeavor given the fact that we know so little about these important micoralagae,” says Georg Pohnert.Paper. (open access) – Karen Grace V. Bondoc, Christine Lembke, Stefan N. Lang, Sebastian Germerodt, Stefan Schuster, Wim Vyverman, Georg Pohnert. Decision-making of the benthic diatom Seminavis robusta searching for inorganic nutrients and pheromones. The ISME Journal, 2018; DOI: 10.1038/s41396-018-0299-2 More.

Do diatoms (single-celled algae) have a “brain”? A point of view? A self?

And, because we are here anyway, what about the finding that even cells in a multicellular life form can show “purposeful inefficiency”? Or that such cells may use passwords? The tendency to try to go on living would seem to be a design feature of life itself (th0ugh it’s not clear from the accounts that the cells that are part of an organism must make decisions, as opposed to unfolding intricate patterns).

One can assume either that all these organisms and parts thereof are individually intelligent or that there is a mind underlying nature.

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See also: Does intelligence depend on a specific type of brain?


Animal minds: In search of the minimal self

6 Replies to “Researchers: Diatoms demonstrate “behavioral biology”

  1. 1
    Mung says:

    It is striking that even unicellular organisms that obviously lack a nervous system can process different stimuli and even evaluate their individual needs.

    I do not find it at all striking.

    Wetware: A Computer in Every Living Cell

  2. 2
    PaV says:

    This must be wrong. Everyone knows that only RM+NS can change the way an organism operates. (sarcasm alert!)

  3. 3
    R J Sawyer says:

    I guess that reacting to a chemical gradient is “technically” a behaviour, but They are implying something more, which I don’t think they can support.

  4. 4

    The article was a bit misleading on the use of “sex”. The most common or normal way a diatom multiplies is by asexual binary division. Only the outside of a diatom is made of glass, or more precisely two pieces of glass like a pill box, or two petri dishes of slightly different diameter. When it asexually divides, each daughter gets one pill box cover, and most importantly, makes a new “lid” by constructing a slightly smaller petri dish. If we draw a tree diagram with all the descendants on it, you will see that the descendant who inherits the oldest “top” petri dish, is still the same size as her original clone. But the poor schlub who always inherits the smaller “bottom” petri dish is now very small indeed.

    It is this shrinking accommodation that forces the diatom to engage in “sex”. This involves forming gametes inside the glass, shedding the glass, merging gametes (which may or may not be the same size) and hatching two full-sized diatoms.
    Whether or not we apply multicellular and metazoan attitudes about procreation to diatoms, it does show that memory persists between generations, which is hard to explain without design.

  5. 5
    bornagain77 says:

    Diatoms display intelligent design in spades:

    Diatom Evolution a Mystery – August 11, 2012
    Excerpt: They have already played a significant role in the global cycles of carbon and nitrogen, and are responsible for large sediments of silica including diatomaceous earth.,,,Gross described many amazing facts about these microbes (Diatoms) that live in glass houses:
    “they have a very efficient way to dissipate excess solar energy, known as non-photochemical quenching.”
    “In a time span of less than 200 million years, diatoms have branched out into a multitude of species, which can be as genetically different as humans and fish.”
    “While we might want to call diatoms ‘plantimals,’ these things are much more complex than we think,” Chris Bowler says.
    “Like animals, for instance, diatoms possess a complete urea cycle.… the cycle enables diatoms to recover quickly after prolonged periods of nitrogen limitation.”
    “…diatoms have a huge influence on geochemical cycles and our climate.”
    “Diatoms fix as much carbon dioxide as all the rainforests of the world combined.…”
    “The silica frustules with their intricate nanoscale patterns can make any nanotechnologist jealous. Nature can produce such structures at ambient temperature and under benign conditions, an achievement that our technology cannot match yet.”
    “Diatom adhesives are of interest for two opposite reasons — some may want to mimic bioadhesives like these to produce better glues that work under difficult conditions, for instance under water. Others want to stop diatoms from sticking to things under water, such as ships.

    Nature: 3.8 Billion Years of R&D – October 2, 2012
    Excerpt: Diatoms can feed, speed the world: We are surrounded by bounteous resources we can hardly imagine: microscopic organisms in water that live in glass houses, called diatoms. PhysOrg writes, “Ancient diatoms could make biofuels, electronics and health food—at the same time.” Researchers at Oregon State are creating a “photosynthetic biorefinery,” the article says, getting the little nanofactories to make customized products by special order. Give them water, some minerals and sunshine, and they could make a steady stream of affordable, eco-friendly products: biofuels, biomedical products, and even semiconductors. “The key to all of this is the diatom itself, a natural nanotechnology factory,,,”

    Besides all that, they are beautiful to look at:

    Diatoms – image google search

    Oceans Full of Design – May 17, 2016
    Excerpt: Diatoms are not the only Baroque artists. Other microbes in the plankton community build even more elaborate 3-D shapes, notably the radiolarians and foraminifera.

  6. 6
    R J Sawyer says:

    I’m not a diatom expert, but I did my masters thesis on marine protozoans. If diatoms are anything like protozoans, the clone (all cells resulting from asexual reproduction) senesce and dies if the individuals don’t undergo sexual reproduction after a fixed number of divisions. It raises all sorts of questions about the real “purpose” of sexual reproduction.

    There are even some cilliates that can avoid senescence by undergoing an internal meiotic process (autogamy) without exchanging genetic material with another cell. It appears that it is the reshuffling that is needed, not necesssarily the swapping of spit. Brings a new meaning to the insult “go &$@# yourself”. 🙂

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