Cell fusion is a fundamental phenomenon observed in all eukaryotes. Cells can exchange resources such as molecules or organelles during fusion. In this paper, we ask whether a cell can also transfer an adaptive response to a fusion partner. We addressed this question in the unicellular slime mould Physarum polycephalum, in which cell–cell fusion is extremely common. Slime moulds are capable of habituation, a simple form of learning, when repeatedly exposed to an innocuous repellent, despite lacking neurons and comprising only a single cell. In this paper, we present a set of experiments demonstrating that slime moulds habituated to a repellent can transfer this adaptive response by cell fusion to individuals that have never encountered the repellent. In addition, we show that a slime mould resulting from the fusion of a minority of habituated slime moulds and a majority of unhabituated ones still shows an adaptive response to the repellent. Finally, we further reveal that fusion must last a certain time to ensure an effective transfer of the behavioural adaptation between slime moulds. Our results provide strong experimental evidence that slime moulds exhibit transfer of learned behaviour during cell fusion and raise the possibility that similar phenomena may occur in other cell–cell fusion systems.
Electronic supplementary material is available online at https://dx.doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.3593552.
- Received October 31, 2016.
- Accepted November 25, 2016.
- © 2016 The Author(s)
Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.