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Slime Engineers Roundup

February 12, 2010

Slime molds inspire mass transit planners.


Complex math from slime. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Taking the important cities in Japan and linking them into an efficient railway system requires teams of civil engineers and mathematicians—or, apparently, one slime mold. In the journal Science, Japanese researchers report that they created a tiny map of Japan with bits of oat flakes placed on key train stops. Then they put a slime mold cell on Tokyo. Like something out of an old science fiction film, the blob spread out to engulf the entire region, and then formed a network of hair-like tubes that connected the food sources. The resulting network was nearly identical to the actual Japanese rail network. Understanding how the slime mold figures this out could make it easier to calculate transportation routes and other complex mathematical problems. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.