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27-Mar-2014

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Contact: Stewart Bland
s.bland@elsevier.com
44-186-584-3124
Elsevier

Computing with slime

Study published in journal Materials Today reveals details of logical circuits built using living slime molds

Oxford, March 27, 2014 - A future computer might be a lot slimier than the solid silicon devices we have today. In a study published in the journal Materials Today, European researchers reveal details of logic units built using living slime molds, which might act as the building blocks for computing devices and sensors.

Andrew Adamatzky (University of the West of England, Bristol, UK) and Theresa Schubert (Bauhaus-University Weimar, Germany) have constructed logical circuits that exploit networks of interconnected slime mold tubes to process information.

One is more likely to find the slime mold Physarum polycephalum living somewhere dark and damp rather than in a computer science lab. In its "plasmodium" or vegetative state, the organism spans its environment with a network of tubes that absorb nutrients. The tubes also allow the organism to respond to light and changing environmental conditions that trigger the release of reproductive spores.

In earlier work, the team demonstrated that such a tube network could absorb and transport different colored dyes. They then fed it edible nutrients - oat flakes - to attract tube growth and common salt to repel them, so that they could grow a network with a particular structure. They then demonstrated how this system could mix two dyes to make a third color as an "output".

Using the dyes with magnetic nanoparticles and tiny fluorescent beads, allowed them to use the slime mold network as a biological "lab-on-a-chip" device. This represents a new way to build microfluidic devices for processing environmental or medical samples on the very small scale for testing and diagnostics, the work suggests. The extension to a much larger network of slime mold tubes could process nanoparticles and carry out sophisticated Boolean logic operations of the kind used by computer circuitry. The team has so far demonstrated that a slime mold network can carry out XOR or NOR Boolean operations. Chaining together arrays of such logic gates might allow a slime mold computer to carry out binary operations for computation.

"The slime mold based gates are non-electronic, simple and inexpensive, and several gates can be realized simultaneously at the sites where protoplasmic tubes merge," conclude Adamatzky and Schubert.

Are we entering the age of the biological computer? Stewart Bland, Editor of Materials Today, believes that "although more traditional electronic materials are here to stay, research such as this is helping to push and blur the boundaries of materials science, computer science and biology, and represents an exciting prospect for the future."

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

Notes for Editors

This article is "Slime mold microfluidic logical gates" by Andrew Adamatzky and Theresa Schubert. It appears in Materials Today, Volume 17, Issue 2, March 2014, Pages 8691 (2014) published by Elsevier. The article is available for free at http://www.materialstoday.com

About Materials Today

Materials Today is a community dedicated to the creation and sharing of materials science knowledge and experience. Supported by Elsevier, we publish high impact peer-reviewed journals, organize academic conferences, broadcast educational webinars and so much more.

The Materials Today journal is an Open Access journal, specializing in topical reviews, and covering the latest research, news, comment, and opinion in materials science.

About Elsevier

Elsevier is a world-leading provider of information solutions that enhance the performance of science, health, and technology professionals, empowering them to make better decisions, deliver better care, and sometimes make groundbreaking discoveries that advance the boundaries of knowledge and human progress. Elsevier provides web-based, digital solutions among them ScienceDirect, Scopus, Elsevier Research Intelligence and ClinicalKey and publishes nearly 2,200 journals, including The Lancet and Cell, and over 25,000 book titles, including a number of iconic reference works.

The company is part of Reed Elsevier Group PLC, a world-leading provider of professional information solutions in the Science, Medical, Legal and Risk and Business sectors, which is jointly owned by Reed Elsevier PLC and Reed Elsevier NV. The ticker symbols are REN (Euronext Amsterdam), REL (London Stock Exchange), RUK and ENL (New York Stock Exchange).

Media contact

Stewart Bland
Elsevier
+44 1865 843124
s.bland@elsevier.com



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