The lowly slime mold can actually lead to improved technological systems, such as more robust computer and mobile communication networks, a new study has said.
A team of Japanese and British researchers has found that Physarum polycephalum, a gelatinous fungus-like mold might help in reliable, cost-efficient network construction.
They found that slime mold connected itself to scattered food sources in a design that was nearly identical to Tokyo's rail system.
During the study, lead researcher Atsushi Tero from Hokkaido University in placed oat flakes on a wet surface in locations that corresponded to the cities surrounding Tokyo, and allowed the Physarum polycephalum mold to grow outwards from the centre.
They watched the slime mold self-organize, spread out, and form a network that was comparable in efficiency, reliability, and cost to the real-world infrastructure of Tokyo's train network.
"Some organisms grow in the form of an interconnected network as part of their normal foraging strategy to discover and exploit new resources," said Tero.
"Physarum is a large, single-celled amoeboid organism that forages for patchily distributed food sources... [It] can find the shortest path through a maze or connect different arrays of food sources in an efficient manner with low total length yet short average minimum distance between pairs of food sources, with a high degree of fault tolerance to accidental disconnection," Tero added.
The researchers believe that capturing the essence of this biological system in simple rules could be useful to inform the construction of self-organizing and cost-efficient networks in the real world.
They captured the core mechanisms needed by the slime mold to connect its food sources in an efficient manner and incorporated them into a mathematical model.
According to Wolfgang Marwan of Otto von Guericke University in Germany, "The model captures the basic dynamics of network adaptability through interaction of local rules, and produces networks with properties comparable to or better than those of real-world infrastructure networks..."
The study provides a fascinating and convincing example that biologically inspired pure mathematical models can lead to completely new, highly efficient algorithms able to provide technical systems with essential features of living systems, for applications in such areas as computer science."
The study is published in journal Science.