Researchers at the Magdeburg Centre for Systems Biology, Otto von Guericke University in Germany have discovered that a type of slime mold, known scientifically as Physarum polycephalum can create complex networks in order to obtain food, particularly to the study, oats. Ars Technica reports the Science Magazine article that finds the researchers placing the oats in a pattern similar to the locations of cities in Japan. While the mold initially spread out to cover all the food samples, it winnowed down to a network that was remarkably similar to the actual Tokyo Railway.
Sure, researchers had to use light to simulate mountains, bodies of water, and other obstacles (slime mold apparently reacts to light much in the same way people do after a night of binge drinking), but looking at the data in comparison to the actual Tokyo system, they found the slime mold slightly more efficient. That’s right – slime is more efficient than the Japanese (which means the slime could probably teach the US a thing or two about engineering).
The only instance wherein Japanese engineers beat out the slime is that the redundancies actually help preserve the system, should one of the lines go out. In the instance of the slime, the researchers found a 14±4% chance, in the event of a failure, of one of the cities (oats) being cut off from the rest of the system. In a world where a house fly is the equivalent of Godzilla, that’s something of a problem.