Using slime mould to improve transportation

“What idiot designed this highway?”

I’ve asked myself this question on more than one road trip. Sometimes the most straightforward journey can be slowed down thanks to bad highway planning. Now it turns out that slime mould may be an efficient designer of transportation routes. Slime mould resembles a giant amoeba that sends out networks of tubes to grab food from distant locations. Scientists have long known that slime moulds always pick the best route, so they wondered if this fact could be applied to human transportation.

In a recent experiment, Andy Adamatsky of the University of the West of England put a map of Mexico in a Petrie dish. He put a bit of slime mould where Mexico City is, and marked out Mexico’s other cities with oat flakes, a tasty treat loved by slime moulds everywhere. In this amazing timelapse video you can see how the slime mould grows its tubes and basically recreates Mexico’s transport network. He’s also done this with England’s road network and a different team tried it out on Tokyo’s subway system. Adamatsky hopes that in the future, transportation officials will use slime mould to help them in their planning. Feel free to make jokes about politicians and slime mould in the comments section.

[Photo courtesy Dr. Jonatha Gott and the Center for RNA Molecular Biology, Case Western Reserve University]