The amoeba challenge

Life cycle of D. discoideum: phylum Mycetezoa (slime molds)

Dictyostelium discoideum is a species of bacteria-eating amoebas that live in soil and leaf litter.  They have an amazing life cycle that includes three distinct morphologies or body shapes. Starting out as single cells, they collect  into a loose group or aggregate, transform into a multi-cellular slug and then into a fruiting body ready for asexual reproduction. (They can also reproduce sexually.)

If that doesn’t impress you, how about this? They farm. Yep, they grow and harvest crops. The image of microscopic, cytoplasm-streaming,  shape-shifting, water-shooting critters wearing John Deere hats and riding tractors gives SpongeBob SquarePants a run for his money! But that wouldn’t really happen. What actually happens, according to an article by Sindya N. Bhannoo in the New York Times, “Crops of Bacteria, Farmed by Amoebas” (Tuesday January25,2011), is that the D. discoideum carry bacteria with them as they move and seed it if they find themselves in an area that has no food or lacks the bacteria they like. Not only do they carry, disperse and harvest bacteria, they save part of the crop for leaner times.

Which brings me to “the challenge”. I’m no farmer. I’m not even a good weekend gardener, and our little urban yard is a scraggly patchwork of barren ground and overgrown hedges. But I’ve got to figure– if an amoeba with no brain and no thumbs can plant and harvest, maybe I can to. The task before me is the area in front of our garage.  I gaze at this forlorn bit of ground, or shield my eyes from sun bouncing off the siding, every time I wash dishes.  I like washing dishes and while my hands dip into the suds I want to look out at a wintering cedar waxwing plucking a berry or the opening of day lilies on a summer morning. What I look at now is a nagging reminder of home projects still unfinished!

So over the next 2 months I’ll be putting in a small garden of flowers, shrubs and climbing vines. And plenty of compost to keep the D. Discoideum happy.

Any ideas for a sunny spot in the southeast?

The challenge: Transform this bare little patch into a haven for birds, bees and other friendly critters while giving me something lovely to look at while washing the dishes.


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