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Slime molds could hold key to new kinds of intelligence, help Statue of Liberty walk

Chris Barylick, @poingferret
December 29, 2011
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See that yellow amoeboid slime mold? It's up to something. A team of Japanese scientists at Future University Hakodate led by professor Toshiyuki Nakagaki has found evidence that physarum polycephalum -- or grape-cluster slime -- are capable of navigating mazes and can organize their cells to find the most direct route. Nakagaki and others believe this could be the key to designing bio-computers capable of solving complex problems. According to Nakagaki, the slime's cells appear to have a kind of information-processing ability that allows them to "optimize" the route along which the mold grows to reach food while avoiding stresses -- like light -- that may damage them.

Over at Kyushu University, researcher Atsushi Tero told the AFP news agency: "Computers are not so good at analysing the best routes that connect many base points because the volume of calculations becomes too large for them. But slime molds, without calculating all the possible options, can flow over areas in an impromptu manner and gradually find the best routes." Tero and other researchers have expressed hope that slime mold networks could be used in future designs of new transportation systems, electric transmission lines and understanding the human nervous system. Just remember, if you're going to coat the interior of the Statue of Liberty with some pink slime you found in the sewer, make sure you play some upbeat music to go along with it. It's just a good idea in the long run.



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