Humans, as a society, do not make lives easy for recluses. They are counted as exceptions and the ones not good enough to work as a part of the machinery. But their behavior may be a part of nature’s design to ensure survival, says a new study of slime molds.
Slime molds are multicellular reproductive structures formed by single-celled eukaryotic organisms. The researchers observed that even when such molds are formed for the purpose of survival, not everyone joins in. Some ‘loners’ can still be found outside the new arrangement. The study found that these are more of ‘an ecological and an evolutionary insurance plan, a way to diversify a genetic portfolio to ensure the survival of the social, collective behavior’.
“Now that we’re starting to look for it, we realize that a whole lot of systems are not perfectly synchronized — and it’s tantalizing to think that that there may be something to this imperfect synchronization,” said Corina Tarnita, an associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Princeton University. “Individuals that are out-of-sync with the majority of a population exist in humans, too. We call them misfits or geniuses, contrarians or visionaries, very much depending on how the rest of the society feels about their behavior, but they certainly exist.”
In the initial stages of the study, the researchers observed that loners are deliberate and a heritable trait. What they observed upon further research was that these were not a constant fraction of the population, but the number depended on the population density. Furthermore, decisions of being a loner are taken after due communication.
The results of the study have been published in the PLOS Biology journal.