What is lurking in that North Carolina sewer?

by twit

Finally!  The mystery has been solved.

The robot, “Plasmobot,” will be created using vegetative slime mold called plasmodium (Physarum polycephalum) that is commonly found in forests, gardens, and most damp places in the UK.

Horrible moving blob things were filmed awhile back by an apparent sewer colonoscopy, and the commentariat developed various  theories about the creatures in the video:  bryozoans, tubifex worms, or plasmodial slime mold.

I was voting for slime mold.

“After a particularly wet spring in Texas in 1973, several residents of a Dallas suburb reported a large, moving, slimy mass, which they termed “the Blob.” Reporters in the local press speculated that the Blob was a mutant bacterium. Fears of an alien invasion also were raised. Ultimately, however, a local mycologist soberly identified the growth as Fuligo septica, a species of plasmodial slime mold.”

there’s all kinds of things said about slime molds:

“Slime mold colonies have capabilities far above the additive capabilities of the individual cells. The colony is capable of independent movement as a unit. It can travel great distances (for a slime mold) to solve its problem (find food or water) or it can create new slime mold spores to await better conditions. These colonies have even shown a rudimentary intelligence and can traverse a simple maze to find food.”

it doesn’t like light:

“Physarum polycephalum is a large single-celled organism that responds to food sources, such as bacteria and fungi, by moving towards and engulfing it. It also moves away from light and favours humid, moist places to inhabit. The mould uses a network of tiny tubes filled with cytoplasm to both sense its environment and decide how to respond to it.”

and it is capable of movement by contraction, at least according to Wikipedia:

The force in amoeboid microplasmodia is generated by contraction and relaxation of a membranous layer probably consisting of actin (type of filament associated with contraction). The filament layer creates a pressure gradient, over which the protoplasm flows within limits of the cell periphery.

and there are all kinds of species of slime molds, including one that looks like this:

Closeup of a slime mold.

and this (Figure 8: Plasmodium)


Smithsonian Magazine points out in March, 2001:

… slime molds, said to be a billion or so years old, could be one of the first organisms formed by independent cells joining together

and the there’s the color and texture, kind of:

Not until I have passed off a pinkish splotch as discarded bubble gum a number of times does someone point out it’s a traveling slime mold plasmodium.

so I find it easier to believe that there’s a sewage-enhanced slime mold out there, basically doing an enhanced version of what a slime mold seems to do, rather than a sewage-enhanced glob of worms now behaving in what looks like something that would be a totally new kind of behavior.

although the bryozoa theory does have a friend in Colorado:

DENVER – An underground mystery is over for the Crestview water system. In December, a robotic camera checking sewer lines for damage stumbled upon a green, slimy organism with tentacles that seemed to be alive.

… An aquatic specialist from the DOW confirmed that what the camera had discovered was actually a Bryozoan, a primitive life form that, as a species, is over 350 million years old.

The Bryozoans are collections of smaller organisms that filter food out of the water supply, and they are an extremely primitive “animal” life form.

and they do group together, and the ones in the video are being identified as bryozoans:

… the sewer monster is made up of thousands of tiny organisms called bryozoans, or moss animacules, said N.C. State University biologist Thomas Kwak. Invertebrates, they bunch together in colonies and feed with tiny tentacles.

but nevermind!  Escaped plasmobots sound like a perfectly reasonable explanation for these mystery sewer things.

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