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PNB Colloquium Series - Tanya Latty - Who needs a brain? Problem solving and decision making in a unicellular organism



Tanya Latty
University of Sydney

Who needs a brain? Problem solving and decision making in a unicellular organism

All living organisms need to process information in one form another- this basic ability allows them to find and exploit the resources necessary for life. Yet the vast majority of research into problem solving and decision-making focuses on organisms with brains, despite the fact that the majority of life on the planet – greater than 97% - are brainless. The ‘brainless majority’ includes large and medically/ecologically significant groups such as plants, fungi and microbes, as well as tumours and immune cells. Brainless organisms face many of the same challenges as their brained counterparts but must somehow solve them in the absence of a dedicated information processing organ.

In this talk, I will discuss the incredible decision making and problem solving abilities of the unicellular slime mould, Physarum polycephalum. Physarum’s remarkable behaviour opens up questions about the evolution of decision-making systems and the utility (or lack thereof) of having a brain.


Dr Tanya Latty is a senior lecturer at the University of Sydney, Australia. Her research focuses broadly on invertebrate behaviour and ecology with a particularly interest in collective behaviour and decision making. Her recent research directions include studying swarm intelligence in bees, ants and slime moulds, social foraging decisions in a range of organisms, pollination ecology in urban spaces and using social invertebrates as models for bio inspired technologies.

Host: Jonathan Pruitt
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