Slime Mould Convergently Designs Tokyo’s Rail Network

In a stunning display of self-organisation, a slime mould has managed to conversantly design the tokyo rail network – to a fairly accurate degree too. This feat was accomplished through the design of a clever tokyo model for the slime mould to grow on. Mountains (which are bad for trains) were simulated by lights (which the mould dislikes), similarly food was used to represent urban centres. The mould quickly optimised the ideal distribution network between the nodes of food, matching the Tokyo rail model.

The scientists behind this work suggest that this biological system of design might be used as an alternative to traditional methods of design, essentially using biological systems as replacements for other types of optimisation (such as computer algorithms). Whether such models will ever replace more traditional forms of design is questionable, but perhaps the two can work in synchrony in the future? Another potential is that slime mould (or other biological optimisation systems) might provide a quick way to do complex design work for non-critical applications.

The original article can be found here. Its abstract is as follows:

Transport networks are ubiquitous in both social and biological systems. Robust network performance involves a complex trade-off involving cost, transport efficiency, and fault tolerance. Biological networks have been honed by many cycles of evolutionary selection pressure and are likely to yield reasonable solutions to such combinatorial optimization problems. Furthermore, they develop without centralized control and may represent a readily scalable solution for growing networks in general. We show that the slime mold Physarum polycephalum forms networks with comparable efficiency, fault tolerance, and cost to those of real-world infrastructure networks—in this case, the Tokyo rail system. The core mechanisms needed for adaptive network formation can be captured in a biologically inspired mathematical model that may be useful to guide network construction in other domains.


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