Simulating Slime Molds with Virtual Technology
Art and Architecture Undergraduate Combines Virtual Technology with Biology to Study Slime Mold Growth
Louise Magbunduku, a 21-year-old virtual technology and design student at the University of Idaho combines virtual technology with biology to study slime molds and their patterns of growth.
The senior became intrigued by virtual technology after taking an “Artificial Life” course in fall 2017 from Assistant Professor Kyle Harrington in the College of Art and Architecture. She joined his research team as one of his assistants.
“I was a big science fan in high school, but I never saw myself becoming a researcher,” Magbunduku said. “I didn’t know if I could do it, but I was planning to do a minor in computer science, so I had the inclination to become involved in science.”
Slime molds are a group of organisms that can live as single cells but can also work in tandem to be a multicellular structure. Her research documents the movement and behavioral strategies of these organisms, while advancing predictions of what slime molds can or will do.
To visualize the growth of slime molds, Magbunduku takes repeated scans of dishes of slime mold to record the slime mold’s growth at different stages. An associated computer program compiles the images of each slime mold and tracks how the slime mold grows, even where the slime mold avoids growing.
Using computer analyses, Magbunduku and her fellow researchers compiled all the information gathered from the scans and then fed the data through predictive computer models.
The accuracy of the simulations relies heavily on the amount and precision of the information fed into the simulation, which means the more scans Harrington’s team takes, the better the growth models. As the models improve, scientists will be better able to predict the growth habits of slime molds. Magbunduku thinks the simulations produced by her research will advance researchers’ knowledge of slime molds, and the slime mold community will grow in conjunction with the increased availability of slime mold data.
“Running the data we gather virtually through image analysis allows us to use predictive software, which can help us better interpret and anticipate behaviors present in the experiment,” Mabunduku said. “Solid models can help save time and research costs when used alongside physical experiments.”
Although slime mold growth patterns are not a new topic, technological advancements such as scanners and compiling programs allow slime mold scientists to gather and process previously unattainable data about these hard-to-study organisms.
“Another major bonus is that image analysis makes it easier to design future experiments,” Magbunduku said.
Magbunduku thinks that, by participating in undergraduate research, she has gained unique experiences and skills in a collegiate lab environment.
“A key reason I picked virtual technology and design as a major was due to its balance between art and science,” Magbunduku said. “This research is very cross-discipline; having the capability to collect data, putting said data into a digital environment, and running simulations on that data could apply to many biological subjects, like conservation, or ecosystem predictions.”
Article and photos by Remington Jensen, a junior from Boise, Idaho, majoring in journalism.
Published in July 2018.
This project, “Managing Idaho’s Landscapes for Ecosystem Services,” was funded under the National Science Foundation EPSCoR under award No. 1301792. The total amount of federal funds for the project is $20 million, which amounts to 83% of the total cost of the project. The total amount of non-federal funds for the project is $4 million, which amounts to 17% of the total cost of the project.