Size-dependent self-avoidance enables superdiffusive migration in macroscopic unicellulars

Lucas Tröger, Florian Goirand, Karen Alim

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Many cells face search problems, such as finding food, mates, or shelter, where their success depends on their search strategy. In contrast to other unicellular organisms, the slime mold Physarum polycephalum forms a giant network-shaped plasmodium while foraging for food. What is the advantage of the giant cell on the verge of multicellularity? We experimentally study and quantify the migration behavior of P. polycephalum plasmodia on the time scale of days in the absence and presence of food. We develop a model which successfully describes its migration in terms of ten data-derived parameters. Using the mechanistic insights provided by our data-driven model, we find that regardless of the absence or presence of food, P. polycephalum achieves superdiffusive migration by performing a self-avoiding run-and-tumble movement. In the presence of food, the run duration statistics change, only controlling the short-term migration dynamics. However, varying organism size, we find that the long-term superdiffusion arises from self-avoidance determined by cell size, highlighting the potential evolutionary advantage that this macroscopically large cell may have.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2312611121
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number13
StatePublished - 26 Mar 2024


  • behavior
  • migration
  • multicellularity
  • plasmodial slime mold


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