A new study from Japan shows that humans are not the only organisms on Earth that know how to network. The New York Times reports on recent research showing that a single-celled amoeboid organism can spread out and build complicated tubular connections between food sources. It may take humans years to make the same connections while building, for instance, a railway system. The slime can do it in one day.
Toshiyuki Nakagaki is a researcher at Hokkaido University and slime molds expert. As he told the NY Times, “We’ve found an unexpected high ability of information processing in this organism.” Nakagaki and his fellow researchers introduced a complicated network design program to a slime mold called Physarum polycephalum. They laid out 36 bits of food on a network and put the blob in the middle of the network. After 26 hours, the scientists found that the mold had created a network that, to a large extent, matched the networks laid out in the Japanese rail systems.
Further, the slime mold network was shown to be as mathematically efficient as the railways. Nakagaki points out that while tubular connections are obviously not as complicated as railroads, the network still tolerated breaks in the connections and was created at reasonable cost to the organism.
Experts are excited about the implications for practical use of this information. Science.com reports that “robust network performance involves a complex trade-off involving cost, transport efficiency, and fault tolerance.” With the slime mold’s performance as a guide, researchers hope that the brainy blob may inspire more efficient networks for mobile phone or transportation technologies.
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