Photo/IllutrationMana Masui (Photo by Ikuro Aiba)

Surrounded by piles of books and folders stuffed with documents, a 16-year-old’s desk is covered with containers of yellow and red slimy creatures that spread out like capillaries.

The clutter is not the product of a disheveled teenager, but the accumulation of more than 10 years of study that has won the boy numerous awards, led to a published book and garnered attention overseas.

“To me, they are adorable because I’ve grown them for 10 years,” Mana Masui, from Tokyo, said about his unicellular organisms called slime mold.

His passion for the creatures started when he was 5 years old. He became captivated by a TV program showing a sped-up transformation of slime molds, which generally move only several centimeters in an hour.

Masui went to a park with his mother and tried to find the micro-organism but to no avail.

However, he later managed to gather slime molds during an observation walk held by the Japanese Society of Myxomycetology, and started to raise them.

As a first-grader at elementary school, Masui studied two types of slime mold to determine which one could find its food faster.

The study won the Noyori Science Award presented by the National Museum of Nature and Science. The prize, named after Ryoji Noyori, who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2001, recognizes eminent studies by elementary and junior high school students.

Masui continued to advance his studies, and won the same prize for nine straight years.

The teenager’s current focus is on how slime molds distinguish other molds with which they can merge and fuse together.

Slime molds were studied by Kumagusu Minakata (1867-1941), a celebrated biologist and anti-establishment scholar.

Masui appears to be heading toward the same level of prominence as Minakata.

Last summer, after Masui read a paper on his research at an international academic conference, a German researcher asked him about his studies.

The German researcher is involved in editing an international scientific journal, and Masui is preparing a thesis for submission to the publication.

Now attending a combined junior and senior high school in Tokyo, the teen plans to continue studying slime molds, an activity supported by his parents who have liberal arts backgrounds.

In autumn last year, Masui’s book titled “Sekai wa Henkeikin de Ippaida” (The world is filled with slime mold) was published by Asahi Press.

The book compiles records of his rearing of slime molds and his studies on the organism.

Masui said it takes one to two hours to feed oatmeal to his slime molds.

“Slime molds are just fantastic and marvelous,” he said. “I want to pursue the unknown.”