Slime Mold Network Engineering
Who would you ask to do the best possible job of connecting disparate locations with an efficient transport system? Engineers? Try slime mold.
Transport networks are ubiquitous in both social and biological systems. Robust network performance involves a complex trade-off involving cost, transport efficiency, and fault tolerance. Biological networks have been honed by many cycles of evolutionary selection pressure and are likely to yield reasonable solutions to such combinatorial optimization problems. Furthermore, they develop without centralized control and may represent a readily scalable solution for growing networks in general. (1)
In the picture shown below, researchers have carefully placed oat flakes in the pattern of Japanese cities around Tokyo. The slime mold Physarum polycephalum was introduced, eventually connecting the flakes with an efficient network to distribute nutrients throughout the single celled organism.
(Slime mold connects oat flakes like cities in Japan)
Initially, the slime mold dispersed evenly around the oat flakes, exploring its new territory. But within hours, the slime mold began to refine its pattern, strengthening the tunnels between oat flakes while the other links gradually disappeared. After about a day, the slime mold had constructed a network of interconnected nutrient-ferrying tubes. Its design looked almost identical to that of the rail system surrounding Tokyo, with a larger number of strong, resilient tunnels connecting centrally located oats. “There is a remarkable degree of overlap between the two systems,” Mark Fricker of the University of Oxford says. (2)
Fricker is one of several researchers contributing a paper this month to Science on using the slime mold’s behavior to create a biology-inspired mathematical description of network formation. In their research, the slime-based model first creates a fine mesh network that goes everywhere. The mathematical model uses an ongoing process to refine the network so that the tubes carrying the most material grow more robust and redundant tubes are removed.
It's not a prediction, but I'm reminded of the work of the clever intellectual cells in Greg Bear's wonderful 1984 novel Blood Music. In the story, they become more intelligent and, when introduced into the body of researcher Virgil Ulam, they restructure his body for greater efficiency, building networks that are actually visible across the surface of his skin.
If I can find my copy of the book, I'll drop in an appropriate passage. Unfortunately, Blood Music is not one of those books that stays put on your shelf; friends want to borrow it, you read parts of it and put it down somewhere.... you get the picture.
From (1) Rules for Biologically Inspired Adaptive Network Design via (2) Science News; thanks to an alert reader who passed on the tip about this great story.
Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 1/25/2010)
Follow this kind of news @Technovelgy.
| Email | RSS | Blog It | Stumble | del.icio.us | Digg | Reddit |
you like to contribute a story tip?
Get the URL of the story, and the related sf author, and add
Comment/Join discussion ( 0 )
Related News Stories -
Svalbard Seed Vault (aka Doomsday Vault) Gets Upgrades
'But they existed in the Life Bank, as did virtually every plant and animal that existed on Old Earth.' - John Varley, 1977.
China Melts Tibetan Permafrost To Plant Forest
'Can you give us a microwave spotlight?' - Niven, Pournelle, Flynn, 1995.
Hackers Insert Malware Into DNA
'They tied the memory to the bloodline and that was their record!' -
Worms Eat Plastic Now
'Slowly and inexorably, the rate of dissolution increased...' - Davis/Pedlar, 1971.
Technovelgy (that's tech-novel-gee!)
is devoted to the creative science inventions and ideas of sf authors. Look for
the Invention Category that interests
you, the Glossary, the Invention
Timeline, or see what's New.
Save Your Brain's Connectome, Upload Yourself Elsewhere
'You've got remote storage. How regular is the update?'
TMS Decreases Belief In God, Increases Belief In Immigrants
'... setting up the same currents, the same basic ideas, in them all.'
Loomo Mini Transporter Robot Companion You Ride On
'Slowly the [robot] horse raised its head, wiggled its ears, blinked twice, gave a tentative whinny.'
Soft Robotics - Now With 3D Printed Sensors!
'A series of chemelectric afferent nerve-analogues, which permitted it to gauge to an ounce the amount of pressure necessary to snap a bone...'
AI Tool Lynx Insight And The Cybernetic Newsroom
'The structure,... was once a great homeostatic newspaper, the New York Times. It printed itself directly below us...'
Espresso Telescope Searches For Exoplanets
'These instruments were the wonderful ones our astronomers had perfected.'
Dune Fans! Metal-Organic Frameworks Make Science Fiction Real
'Dew collectors,' he muttered, enchanted by the simple beauty of such a scheme.
Manned Maneuvering Unit From 1984
'The glittering little rocket bolted to the black iron behind him.'
Astronaut Gets Younger In Space
'So what we're looking for now is not an antibiotic - an anti-life drug - but an anti-agathic, an anti-death drug...'
Blockchain Used To Verify Election Results
'Any adult could punch into the phone his or her code, followed by a yes or no.'
IJOP Integrated Joint Operations Platform China's Minority Report?
'All day long the idiots babbled, imprisoned in their special high-backed chairs...'
HushMe Bluetooth Device Reinvents The Hush-A-Phone
'Talking into a hush-a-phone which he had plugged into the telephone jack...'
Ultrathin Brain Needle Developed At MIT
Putting drugs into a selected cubic millimeter within the living brain.
Tesla Semi Truck Now At Work
Why wait? Tesla Semi now hard at work.
Illustris: The Next Generation Of Universe Simulation
'This digital device was ... A machine able literally to contain the Universe Itself...'
Scaly Yet Soft Robotic Snake
Love those robotic sneks.
More SF in the News Stories
More Beyond Technovelgy science news stories