Picturepest/Victor Tangermann
Brainy Cell

This Single-Celled Creature Is Weirdly Smart

byDan Robitzski
12. 6. 19
Picturepest/Victor Tangermann

The tiny critter appears to be making complex decisions.

They’re Learning

Scientists say they’ve observed what they’re calling signs of complex decisionmaking in a single-celled organism, breathing new life into a theory that was laughed off over a century ago.

The aquatic creature, Stentor roeseli, responds differently over time to the same stimulus, which ScienceAlert reports is evidence that the critter can make decisions — or at least do whatever the single-celled equivalent of changing one’s mind might be. It’s not quite accurate to say a creature without any sort of nervous system is actively thinking, but the discovery challenges many of scientists’ assumptions about animal intelligence.

Poke Test

Similar single-celled organisms will gradually respond less and less to repeated stimuli. Stentor roeseli, however, will first bend away from the source of the stimulus — but later change tactics and flap its cilia in defense, contract, or float away, according to research published Thursday in Current Biology.

A zoologist named Herbert Spencer Jennings first made the same discovery in 1906, ScienceAlert reports, but no one has been able to recreate it since.

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Possible Answers

The likelihood that the organism would select one strategy over another was nearly a 50-50 split, suggesting that some biological mechanism is choosing one over the other almost as though it were flipping a coin.

Saying that Stentor roeseli can make decisions is more of an illustration than a precise explanation, but until scientists continue to probe the complex behavior, it may be the best way to describe what’s going on in the little critter.

READ MORE: This Single-Celled Animal Makes Complex ‘Decisions’ Even Without a Nervous System [ScienceAlert]

More on intelligence: Fringe Idea: Should we Gene-Hack Animals to Make Them Smarter?

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