Skip to main content

Article Category

News

Article available in the folowing languages:

Slime mould finds niche in human engineering

Researchers from Japan and the UK have discovered that slime mould can be used to give varied technological systems a boost. Published in the journal Science, the research is part of the MMCOMNET ('Measuring and modelling complex networks across domains') project, which receiv...

Researchers from Japan and the UK have discovered that slime mould can be used to give varied technological systems a boost. Published in the journal Science, the research is part of the MMCOMNET ('Measuring and modelling complex networks across domains') project, which received EUR 1.5 million under the 'New and emerging science and technology' (NEST) activity of the EU's Sixth Framework Programme (FP6). The human engineers used the gelatinous fungus-like mould called Physarum polycephalum to determine whether such mould could be a dependable and cheaper alternative for network development. The researchers, led by Dr Atsushi Tero of Hokkaido University in Japan, found that the slime mould attached itself to food sources spread out in a design that was hugely similar to the rail system in the Japanese capital of Tokyo. By placing oat flakes on wet surfaces in areas corresponding to the cities around Tokyo, the team let the P. polycephalum mould grow outwards from the centre. According to them, the slime mould organised itself, stretched and established a network with features resembling those of Tokyo's rail system network: efficient, reliable and cost-effective. 'Some organisms grow in the form of an interconnected network as part of their normal foraging strategy to discover and exploit new resources,' explained lead author Dr 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.' The team recognised that understanding the mechanics of this biological system could fuel understanding of how to develop self-organising and cost-efficient networks in the real world. They successfully captured the fundamental mechanisms needed by the slime mould to link its food sources in an efficient manner and then integrated them into a mathematical model. Thanks to their work, the researchers found that the feeding habits of this slime mould in particular can offer the field of new science and emerging technology more efficient and adaptive network designs for communication and transportation. Writing in a Perspective in the journal Science, Professor Wolfgang Marwan of Otto von Guericke University in Germany said: '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 work of Tero and colleagues provides a fascinating and convincing example [of how] 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.' According to Dr Tero, this innovative model has the potential to support more efficient and cheaper self-organised networks, such as mobile ad hoc networks and remote sensor arrays, among others. Other institutes participating in the research were the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST), Hiroshima University in Japan and the University of Oxford in the UK. The researchers collaborating in the MMCOMNET project hailed from France, Germany, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK.

Countries

Japan, United Kingdom

Related articles