1253rd OGM and open lecture - Royal Society of NSW News & Events - The Royal Society of NSW

Royal Society of NSW News & Events

Royal Society of NSW News & Events

1253rd OGM and open lecture

Beekman   “Are you smarter than a slime mould?”

   Madeleine Beekman
  Professor of Behavioural Ecology
  University of Sydney

  Wednesday 7th June 2017: 6:00 for 6:30 pm

Professor Madeleine Beekman presented her investigations on the slime mould, a unicellular organism with no brain or central nervous system, but as smart as we are (well, maybe). Over the last few years the acellular slime mould, Physarum polycephalum (literally the multi-headed slime mould) has emerged as a model system for decision making. Despite its simplicity, this organism is capable of rather complex behaviour, which was illustrated by Madeleine in a number of fascinating time-lapse videos. Not only is the organism able to detect the presence and location of food (and to discriminate between oats from Woolies and Coles!), which might be considered simply a chemical process, but it is able to determine the shortest of possible routes to the food, and also to display an efficient strategy for hunting for distributed food sources of varying quality. This behaviour raises a number of questions about the meaning of such concepts as intelligence and cognition, and about fundamental processes underlying all decision-making. These questions, as well as Madeleine’s very engaging style of presentation, led to a vigorous discussion, which would have provided many of us with food for further thought

Madeleine Beekman is Professor of Behavioural Ecology at the University of Sydney and a Fellow of the Royal Society of NSW. She previously held prestigious research fellowships such as the Australian Research Council (ARC) Queen Elizabeth II Fellowship (2003-2012), an ARC Future Fellowship (2013-2016), and a Sydney University Senior International Research Fellowship (2006-2010). Madeleine did her PhD in at the University of Amsterdam and was a postdoctoral research at the University of Sheffield before she moved to Australia to join the University of Sydney in 2001. She has been editor of numerous scientific journals and is currently the Deputy Head of School of the School of Life and Environmental Sciences, as well as the Chair of Ecology, Evolution and Environment. Her main model organism besides the slime mould is honeybees.

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