In orbit and on Earth, the point electrifies schools

Paris (AFP)

They are called “Blobinou”, “Sponge Blob” or “Blob Marley” … Thousands of blobs, these strange single-celled creatures, have landed in schools to be the subject of an experiment, organized from space by Thomas Bisket. .

More than 4,500 classes across France, from CE2 to Terminale, are in turmoil, and at the stud on D-Day: from Monday until October 17, they will begin together on a unique experiment led by CNES (Centre Nationale for the Studies of Space), which will consist of comparing the behavior of The point on Earth has zero gravity, at an altitude of 400 km.

As soon as they received “blot combs” at the beginning of the school year, the teachers began to multiply and, in response to the scientific name “Physarum polycephalum”, inhabited the bushes, discovered with their magic.

This creature, which appeared on Earth between 1 billion and 700 million years ago – long before the dinosaurs – consists of a single cell and several nuclei that can reproduce. Similar to the yellow spongy mass, it has no mouth, stomach, legs, or brain… however it eats (a lot), moves (slowly) and has amazing learning abilities.

blob, a creature that looks like a mushroom but moves, on October 16, 2019 in the Parc zoologique de Paris Stéphane de Sakutin AFP / Archives

The point can split at will, merge with others, and disappear as it becomes dehydrated, making it almost immortal.

– Small labs –

In this dry, “hardened” state, parts of the point were pushed toward the International Space Station in August. In the process, thousands of clones of the same breed as their space congeners, in envelopes, landed in schools.

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The ground layers gradually turned into small laboratories. It was first necessary to awaken the dry points with a few drops of water, and place them in Petri dishes, protected from light, on an agar bed until they developed.

“It takes! You have to take care of him, change the rent every two days, and feed them….” said Cecile Lefebvre, an SVT teacher at a college in Saint-Arnoult-en-. Yvelines. Her hardness has developed at full speed: “I have nearly 20 now!” , welcomes the teacher, who has set up an interdisciplinary project on point with her colleagues (mathematics, physics, English…).

The others got off to an annoying start. “Our first batch + turned moldy, because we didn’t change the agar enough,” says Alexandra da Paz, who teaches at Paul-Bert Primary School in Saint-Mandé (Val-de-Marne).

This small incident allowed her to explain to her students that the point, if almost immortal, “was not invincible,” remembers this school teacher, who has since thrived on MS.

Compared to the usual cultures of insects or snails, the unicellular organism rocks the codes so much that it can cause alarm. “Some people have sci-fi images in their heads, of something yellowish jumping in their faces,” says Emmanuel Bohbot, a CM1/CM2 teacher in northern Paris.

Audrey Dsautour in her laboratory in Toulouse, May 31, 2019
Audrey Dsautour in her laboratory in Toulouse, May 31, 2019 Eric Cabanes, AFP/Archives

– taste –

The name blob was given in reference to the 1958 horror film starring Steve McQueen, in which a strange, slimy creature invades Earth.

“I explained to my students that I didn’t know him much either, even though I had studied biology for five years. That’s what I find great about this project: we learn together!” Emmanuel Bohbot confirms.

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On the Facebook group “Raise your blob”, more than 7000 gurus exchange tips on their polycephalum theme, decorated with all kinds of nicknames (“Blob Marley”, “Blob Dylan”, “Bloby-Wan Kenobi …”): how to make Agar (using agar-agar), feed him (oatmeal) … The teacher even posted a video of trying to taste the blobs – he quickly spat.

“Can we put it in the compost?” How do I remove fog from chests? The questions merge on the network, where the trainee research professors have their mentor: CNRS biologist Audrey Dussautur, whose work promoting the spread of polycephalum. The ethologist has become a real star among teachers and in their classes.

So much so that some students ended up finding the point “more interesting than Thomas Bisquet’s task,” Emmanuel Bohbot laughs.


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