What is Blob, the living organism made up of a single cell that will be sent into space

The Blobs belong to the subclass of the amoebozoans, to which the amoebas also belong. Its behavior and characteristics are unique and will be put to the test on the International Space Station.

The International Space Station is preparing to host an unusual tenant, the ” blob, “an unclassifiable organism that fascinates biologists on Tuesday, will enter orbit to be used in an educational experiment led by French astronaut Thomas Pesquet.

From Earth, several hundred students between 8 and 17 years old will reproduce the experiment starting next autumn with this curious living being, which is neither an animal nor a plant nor a fungus. Students will be guided by the National Center for Space Studies (CNES) in collaboration with the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS).

The ” blob, “called ” Physarum polycephalum, “comprises a single cell and several nuclei. It looks like a fluffy yellow mass; it has neither a mouth nor legs nor a brain. And yet, it eats, grows, moves (very slowly), and possesses impressive learning abilities.

Their nuclei can divide at will, and the organism can go into dormancy (without dying) by dehydrating in that state, called “sclerotia,” several pieces of ” blob ” go into space aboard a cargo ship supply the International Space Station.

When the astronaut rehydrates them, in September, four sclerotia of about 0.5 cm will wake up 400 km from Earth in Petri dishes. They will comply with two protocols: one will test the attitude of the ” blobs ” by being deprived of food, and the other will provide nourishment to the most fortunate (oat flakes).

“Third dimension?”

The objective is to observe the effects of weightlessness in that organism. “Today, nobody knows what behavior it will have in [a situation of] microgravity: in what direction it will move, if it will take the third dimension going upwards or obliquely …” asked Pierre Ferrand, professor of Life Sciences and de la Tierra at the CNES, one of the architects of the project.

“I’m curious to see if it develops into pillars,” said blob specialist Audrey Dussutour, director of research at the CNRS Center for Research on Animal Cognition in Toulouse, southern France.

On land, thousands of specimens of ” blob ” cut from the same strain (LU352) as their space congeners will be distributed among 4,500 schools, secondary schools, and lyceums in France.

“More than 350,000 students will ‘touch’ the ‘blob,’” said Christine Correcher, head of educational projects at the space agency.

Between the end of August and the beginning of September, teachers will receive a kit with between 3 and 5 sclerotia and a tutorial to experiment.

The students will do the same in class when Thomas Pesquet moistens his ” blobs ” in space. After that, several observing sessions will be held to compare the behavior of specimens from Earth with those sent into space.

As the ” blob ” calls into question some scientific theories, it is expected to lead to many discussions in class. “For example, in the cell theory, one of the oldest, it is said that every cell divides into two cells. With the ‘blob,’ this does not work because it is a single cell that grows without ever dividing”, says Pierre Ferrand.

Another oddity: “While most organisms use two sexual types, the ‘blob’ has more than 720! It is an organism ‘with drawers’ that tells us that life is made of a multitude of originalities”, adds the professor.

The ” blob ” appeared on Earth more than 500 million years ago, before animals. For a long time, it was considered a fungus, but then it was removed from that kingdom, and since the 1990s, it is part of the subclass of the amoebozoans, to which the amoebas belong.