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Amoeba agriculture

Some slime molds transport and farm the bacteria they eat

Humans, ants and numerous other species farm their food, but no microoganism has been shown to participate in agriculture, until now. For the first time, researchers have discovered that a species of social amoeba -- a slime mold -- carries, seeds, and harvests a crop of their bacterial diet, researchers report in this week's issue of Nature.

When soil-dwelling Dictyostelium discoideum amoebas run out of nearby bacteria to eat, the social organisms group together into slugs -- conglomerations of 100,000 individuals -- and inch along to a new location. There, they produce a fruiting body filled with spores that are released to take up residence in different, hopefully more productive environments.

While collecting D. discoideum fruiting bodies in the wild, Debra Brock of Rice University in Houston, Texas, noticed that some appeared to contain bacteria in addition to spores. Analyzing 35 wild D. discoideum colonies, Brock and colleagues discovered that one-third of the colonies tested did not eat all of the available bacteria in their location, but instead incorporated some of them into their fruiting bodies to seed a new crop of bacteria in a new location. They christened the bacteria-harboring amoebas "farmers." The other two-thirds of the amoebas, though the same species, were "non-farmers" -- they ate all the bacteria in their current location, never transporting any along with the spores of the fruiting bodies.
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