yellow slime mold

A yellow slime mold’s map of the US compared to the map of major roads.

A yellow slime mold has invaded the world’s highways, spreading from capital cities to the furthest reaches of the transport network and devouring everything in its path. The infestation was unleashed by Andrew Adamatzky, a researcher of unconventional computing at the University of the West of England in Bristol, along with colleagues from universities around the globe.

Thankfully, Adamatzky’s experiments actually took place on agar plates overlaid on maps. He has previously used Physarum polycephalum, a yellow slime mold, to map the motorways of the UK and Mexico and has now extended the work to cover 12 other regions.

The slime mold is surprisingly good at finding the most efficient route to food, despite being a single-celled organism with no brain or central nervous system. Adamatzky and colleagues used oat flakes to map out the major cities of Africa, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, Iberia, Italy, Malaysia, Mexico, the Netherlands, the UK and the US, then placed the slime mold at the capital city of each and allowed it to grow.

Each of the resulting slime-mold networks at least partly matched the real motorway network, though some were closer than others, with Belgium, Canada and China being particularly accurate. The team speculate that the resemblance is due to the fact that road networks are based on unplanned paths that were also originally chosen by living creatures, whether they were early humans or roaming cattle.

Photo credit:  Andrew Adamatzky, University of the West of England

Via New Scientist