Slime Moulds


Slime moulds are organisms that feed and grow like protozoa but reproduce like fungi. No single taxonomic group encompasses all slime moulds. Instead, the slime mould habit appears to have arisen multiple times across a number of different groups. Their unusual name belies the importance of some species as experimental research organisms. Dictyostelium discoideum has provided significant insights into cell differentiation and pattern formation, cell motility, cell signalling, gene expression and cell adhesion and in recent years has also been employed in studies of the mechanism of action of pharmaceuticals, the cellular effects of pathogenic microorganisms and the evolution of social behaviour. Physarum polycephalum has provided insights into cytoplasmic streaming and control of nuclear division and more recently has been employed in practical and theoretical studies of path‐finding. The comparative genomics of the multicellular slime moulds has the potential to provide insights into the evolution of multicellularity.

Key Concepts:

  • ‘Slime moulds’ is a descriptive term rather than a systematic category.

  • The slime mould habit of protozoan‐like feeding stages alternating with fungus‐like reproductive stages has arisen independently in a wide variety of microorganisms embracing four of the five major supergroups of Eukaryotes.

  • The multicellular slime moulds include the well‐known social amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum, which has had broad application as a model research organism in the study of fundamental cellular processes.

  • Complete genome sequences are available for some of the multicellular slime moulds and their non‐aggregative and nonfruiting amoebal relatives. This presents intriguing prospects for exploring the evolution of multicellularity using comparative genomics.

Keywords: Eumycetozoa; Heterolobosea; acrasid; dictyostelid; myxomycete; social amoebae; evolution of multicellularity; Dictyostelium; Physarum; evolutionary‐developmental biology

Figure 1.

Plasmodium of Physarum polycephalum. The plasmodium has emerged from a sclerotium, a resting stage that forms when plasmodia are dried. Reversible cytoplasmic streaming occurs in the tubular structures. Magnification ×4. Photomacrograph © R. L. Blanton.

Figure 2.

Fruiting bodies or sporocarps of the plasmodial slime mould Stemonitis. Magnification ×4. Photomacrograph © R. L. Blanton.

Figure 3.

Scanning electron micrograph of various developmental stages of Dictyostelium discoideum, beginning with the flattened consolidated aggregate in the front right and proceeding clockwise to the mature fruiting body at the far right. The slug is offset to the front left, indicating that slug formation is nonobligate. Magnification ×40. Photomicrograph © M. J. Grimson and R. L. Blanton.



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Further Reading

Bonner JT (2009) The Social Amoebae. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Eichinger L and Rivero F (eds) (2013) Dictyostelium discoideum Protocols. New York, NY: Humana Press.

Kessin RH (2001) Dictyostelium: Evolution, Cell Biology, and the Development of Multicellularity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lee JJ, Hutner SH and Bovee EC (1985) Illustrated Guide to the Protozoa. Lawrence, KS: Society of Protozoologists.

Loomis WF and Kuspa A (eds) (2005) Dictyostelium Genomics. Wymondham: Horizon Bioscience.

Maeda Y, Inouye K and Takeuchi I (eds) (1997) Dictyostelium: A Model System for Cell and Developmental Biology. Tokyo: Universal Academy Press.

Margulis L, Corliss JO, Melkonian M and Chapman DJ (eds) (1990) Handbook of Protoctista. Boston, MA: Jones and Bartlett.

Martin GW and Alexopoulos CJ (1969) The Myxomycetes. Iowa City, IA: University of Iowa Press.

Raper KB (1984) The Dictyostelids. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Romeralo M, Baldauf S and Escalante R (eds) (2013) Dictyostelids: Evolution, Genomics, and Cell Biology. Berlin: Springer‐Verlag.

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Blanton, Richard L(Oct 2014) Slime Moulds. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0001987.pub2]