Take the slime road (Image: University of the West of England)
Jeff Jones and Andrew Adamatzky, specialists in unconventional computing at the University of the West of England in Bristol, wondered if biology could provide an alternative to conventional road planning methods. To find out, they created templates of the UK using a sheet of agar on which they marked out the nine most populous cities, excluding London, with oat flakes. Then, in the place of London, the pair introduced a colony of P. polycephalum, which feeds by spawning tendrils to reach nutrients, and recorded the colony's feeding activity (see picture).
Most of the resulting "maps" mimicked the real inter-city road network, but some offered new routes. For instance, the motorway between Manchester and Glasgow passes along the west coast of the UK, but the slime mould preferred to travel east to Newcastle and then north to Glasgow (arxiv.org/abs/0912.3967). "This shows how a single-celled creature without any nervous system - and thus intelligence in the classical sense - can provide an efficient solution to a routing problem," says Jones.
Read original article - 'Designing highways the slime mould way'