Network topology enables efficient response to environment in Physarum polycephalum

Siyu Chen, Karen Alim

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


The network-shaped body plan distinguishes the unicellular slime mould Physarum polycephalum in body architecture from other unicellular organisms. Yet, network-shaped body plans dominate branches of multi-cellular life such as in fungi. What survival advantage does a network structure provide when facing a dynamic environment with adverse conditions? Here, we probe how network topology impacts P. polycephalum’s avoidance response to an adverse blue light. We stimulate either an elongated, I-shaped amoeboid or a Y-shaped networked specimen and subsequently quantify the evacuation process of the light-exposed body part. The result shows that Y-shaped specimen complete the avoidance retraction in a comparable time frame, even slightly faster than I-shaped organisms, yet, at a lower almost negligible increase in migration velocity. Contraction amplitude driving mass motion is further only locally increased in Y-shaped specimen compared to I-shaped—providing further evidence that Y-shaped’s avoidance reaction is energetically more efficient than in I-shaped amoeboid organisms. The difference in the retraction behaviour suggests that the complexity of network topology provides a key advantage when encountering adverse environments. Our findings could lead to a better understanding of the transition from unicellular to multicellularity.

Original languageEnglish
Article number046003
JournalPhysical Biology
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Jul 2023


  • acellular slime mould
  • behaviour
  • network topology
  • transport network


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