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Learning about the facts of life


Giving slime molds a name
John Bonner Scientist
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We'd gotten to the point where we knew it was a chemical and so we had to call it something. And we didn't like the idea of calling it Substance X or whatever, so I happened to run across in Spenser's The Faerie Queene that there was a witch, Acrasia, who like Circe who would attract men and transform them into beasts. And this seemed very attractive because the name of the group from which these slime molds come are the Acrasieae or the Acrasiales. So what could be more appropriate than having this witch transform them into practically like, vitalism, or you have a witch that does it all? But anyhow that never became a problem. So it's still called acrasin actually because there are a number of different species of slime molds and they don't always have the same one. And so if it's this one, any attractant you call acrasin.

John Tyler Bonner (born in 1920) is an emeritus professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Princeton University. He is a pioneer in the use of cellular slime molds to understand evolution and development and is one of the world's leading experts on cellular slime molds. He says that his prime interests are in evolution and development and that he uses the cellular slime molds as a tool to seek an understanding of those twin disciplines. He has written several books on developmental biology and evolution, many scientific papers, and has produced a number of works in biology. He has led the way in making Dictyostelium discoideum a model organism central to examining some of the major questions in experimental biology.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: The Faerie Queene

Duration: 1 minute, 30 seconds

Date story recorded: February 2016

Date story went live: 14 September 2016