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Computing With Slime: Building Logical Circuits with Living Slime Molds

slime mold

Slime mold (Physarum polycephalum).
Image credit: Dr. Jonatha Gott and the Center for RNA Molecular Biology, Case Western Reserve University.

The computer in the future could be much slimier than the solid silicon one we are using now. European researchers has released the result of their study in the journal Materials Today, providing details of logic units being built with living slime molds, which might function as the building blocks for computing sensors and devices.

Andrew Adamatzky (University of the West of England, Bristol, UK) and Theresa Schubert (Bauhaus-University Weimar, Germany) have established the logical circuits to utilize  networks of the slime mold tubes interconnected with each other for processing information.

One of the possibilities is to look for the slime mold Physarum polycephalum which are living somewhere damp and dark rather than in a lab for computer science. In its “plasmodium” or veget ative state, the organism keeps the life by a network of tubes that are used for absorption of necessary nutrients. Such tubes also let the organism to give its response to light and some other changing environmental conditions that result in the release of reproductive spores.

In its earlier work, the team showed that this kind of tube network could function in absorption and transportation of  different colored dyes. During the experiement, the scientists fed it with edible nutrients like oat flakes to help the tube grow and common salt to scare them away, therefore, they could form a network characteristic of a particular structure. Afterwards, the scientists demonstrated the way in which this system was capable of mixing two dyes to get a third color which is thought to be an “output.” in the process.

By using the dyes with mysterious nanoparticles and small fluorescent beads, the team was able to utilize the slime mold network as a biological “lab-on-a-chip” device.

This is the new approach to building microfluidic devices to process the samples in medical and environmental fields on the very small scale in regard to diagnostics and testing.

If such network of slime mold tubes could be extended to a larger scale, it would be able to process nanoparticles and implement the complicated Boolean logic operations which are now being carried out by computer circuitry.

In its research, up to now, the team could confirm the fact that a slime mold network can carry out operations such as XOR or NOR Boolean. If  the arrays of such logic gates could be chained together, it is possible for a slime mold computer to implement the binary operations for computation.

As Adamatzky and Schubert  said, such gates based on slime mold were non-electronic, simple to use and inexpensive to get. Several gates could be realized at the same time in the place where protoplasmic tubes merge.

As more research move on, we might enter the era of the biological computer.Although we are still using a lot of  traditional electronic materials now, the research like the team of Adamatzky and Schubert should be helpful in pushing and blurring the boundaries of biology,computer science, and  materials science, which would show an amazing prospect for the future.

The research was undertaken in a framework of EU FP7 Project “Physarum Chip” (Unconventional Computing program).

Source: Elsevier.

Journal Reference:

  1. Andrew Adamatzky, Theresa Schubert. Slime mold microfluidic logical gates.Materials Today, 2014; 17 (2): 86 DOI: 10.1016/j.mattod.2014.01.018


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