Plasmodia of the acellular slime mold, Physarum polycephalum, reveal a complex and changing pattern of birefringence when examined with a sensitive polarizing microscope. Positively birefringent fibrils are found throughout the ectoplasmic region of the plasmodium. In the larger strands they may be oriented parallel to the strand axis, or arranged circularly or spirally along the periphery of endoplasmic channels. Some fibrils exist for only a few minutes, others for a longer period. Some, particularly the circular fibrils, undergo changes in birefringence as they undergo cyclic deformations. In the ramifying strand region and the advancing margin there is a tendency for fibrils of various sizes to become organized into mutually orthogonal arrays. In some plasmodia the channel wall material immediately adjacent to the endoplasm has been found to be birefringent. The sign of endoplasmic birefringence is negative, and its magnitude is apparently constant over the streaming cycle. The pattern of plasmodial birefringence and its changes during the shuttle streaming cycle of Physarum are considered in the light of several models designed to explain either cytoplasmic streaming alone or the entire gamut of plasmodial motions. The results of this and other recent physical studies suggest that both streaming and the various other motions of the plasmodium may very likely be explained in terms of coordinated contractions taking place in the fibrils which are rendered visible in polarized light.

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