Slime mold is master network engineer

Talented and dedicated engineers spent countless hours designing Japan’s rail system to be one of the world’s most efficient. Could have just asked a slime mold.

When presented with oat flakes arranged in the pattern of Japanese cities around Tokyo, brainless, single-celled slime molds construct networks of nutrient-channeling tubes that are strikingly similar to the layout of the Japanese rail system, researchers from Japan and England report January 22 in Science. A new model based on the simple rules of the slime mold’s behavior may lead to the design of more efficient, adaptable networks, the team contends.

Every day, the rail network around Tokyo has to meet the demands of mass transport, ferrying millions of people between distant points quickly and reliably, notes study coauthor Mark Fricker of the University of Oxford. “In contrast, the slime mold has no central brain or indeed any awareness of the overall problem it is trying to solve, but manages to produce a structure with similar properties to the real rail network.”.

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