Who do think is better at creating an efficent, cost-effective and resilient network...1) communication network engineers designing the Tokyo railway system or 2) Nature i.e. the ordinary slime mould?
Well if you picked choice number 2).. Nature... you'd be right.
In an experiment comparing the growth of Physarum polycephalum (slime mould) against an existing man-made network, the slime mould performed admirably, as good as or better then human designed networks.
"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 researchers knew 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.
Since the slime mold has been subjected to countless rounds of evolutionary selection, this formula based on its feeding habits might provide a route to more efficient and adaptive network designs for transportation and communication.
Others offer similar opinions:
"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... This work 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 model provides a starting point for improving efficiency and decreasing costs for self-organized networks without centralized control, like remote sensor arrays (smart dust), mobile ad hoc networks, and wireless mesh networks.
A practical application of this can be used in war to save lives.
I always thought that our troops in Afghanistan should be using "smart dust" or wireless mesh networks sprinkled along the roadside to identify suspicious movements along roads, as proxy indicator for terrorists, who regularly plant improvised explosive devices ( IED's) at night. Algorithms could be designed to distinguish between expected and unexpected incidents/ movements (humans vs animals). These sensors are inexpensive, now costing pennies each and have a range of 50 feet.
Author of the soon-to-be published book-