Friday, August 23, 2013

Weekend Rebel Science Excursion - 22

I can't figure out why bureaucrats are dumber than microbes which can't even be seen.

These microbes are like citizens who have to live with bureaucrats --they can't see us either.

Once I was at a bureaucracy shop and lost my parking ticket appeal (parking on the street in front of my house without a permit) because I got frustrated and told them "America is not far from here."

Anyway, I think I may send them a copy of this post.

This is Friday and rebel science is the norm around here.

So, let's explore a really interesting discovery that scientists have made, but which you and I already knew: slime mold is smarter than bureaucrats:
Since the best city planners around the world have not been able to end traffic jams, scientists are looking to a new group of experts: slime mold.

That's right, a species of gelatinous amoeba could help urban planners design better road systems to reduce traffic congestion, a new study found.

A team of researchers studied the slime mold species Physarum polycephalum and found that as it grows it connects itself to scattered food crumbs in a design that’s nearly identical to Tokyo’s rail system.

Slime mold is a fungus-like, single-celled animal that can grow in a network of linked veins, spreading over a surface like a web. The mold expands by dividing its nuclei into more and more nuclei, though all are technically enclosed in one large cell.

"Some organisms grow in the form of an interconnected network as part of their normal foraging strategy to discover and exploit new resources," wrote the researchers in a paper published in the Jan. 22 issue of the journal Science. Slime mold has evolved to grow in the most efficient way possible to maximize its access to nutrients.

"[It] can find the shortest path through a maze or connect different arrays of food sources in an efficient manner with low total length, yet short average minimum distance between pairs of food sources," wrote the scientists, led by Atsushi Tero from Hokkaido University in Japan.

To test whether slime-mold networks behave anything like train and car traffic networks, the researchers placed oat flakes in various spots on a wet surface so that the resulting layout corresponded to the cities surrounding Tokyo. They even added areas of bright light (which slime mold tends to avoid) to correspond to mountains or other geologic features that the trains would have to steer around.

The scientists let the mold organize itself and spread out around these nutrients, and found that it built a pattern very similar to the real-world train system connecting those cities around Tokyo. And in some ways, the amoeba solution was more efficient. What's more, the slime mold built its network without a control center that could oversee and direct the whole enterprise; rather, it reinforced routes that were working, and eliminated redundant channels, constantly adapting and adjusting for maximum efficiency.
(Slime Mold Beats Humans at Perfecting Traffic Networks, emphasis added). I could have told you that after my day at parking ticket appeal court.

Anyway, have a good weekend and avoid the road rage.

The next post in this series is here, the previous post in this series is here.


  1. OTOT, Hi Dredd, Lottakatz here, When I read this I thought of you. The information is slowly making its way into the popular press. Your studies are probably beyond this level from reading your postings but still it's interesting, especially the recounting of the mouse gut bacteria from timid mice into more aggressive mice.

    "Gut feelings: the future of psychiatry may be inside your stomach
    The right combination of stomach microbes could be crucial for a healthy mind"

  2. Anonymous Lottakatz,

    Thanks for the link.

    Here is a quote from it: But then he asked a question that no psychiatrist ever had: How was Mary’s gut? Did she suffer digestive upset? Constipation or diarrhea? Acid reflux? Had Mary’s digestion seemed to change at all before or during her illness? Her parents looked at each other. The answer to many of the doctor’s questions was, indeed, “Yes.”

    That’s what prompted Greenblatt to take a surprising approach: besides psychotherapy and medication, Greenblatt also prescribed Mary a twice-daily dose of probiotics, the array of helpful bacteria that lives in our gut. The change in Mary was nothing short of miraculous: within six months, her symptoms had greatly diminished. One year after the probiotic prescription, there was no sign that Mary had ever been ill.

    Her parents may have been stunned, but to Greenblatt, Mary’s case was an obvious one. An imbalance in the microbes in Mary’s gut was either contributing to, or causing, her mental symptoms. “The gut is really your second brain,” Greenblatt said. “There are more neurons in the GI tract than anywhere else except the brain.”

    A few years ago when Dredd Blog began to reveal these new discoveries that microbiologists were encountering, there was a lot of flak from those who had been indoctrinated with "flat-Earth science."

    The ramifications of the new discoveries are profound.

    In The Germ Theory of Government series I have advocated a hypothesis that the source of government insanity is related to the destruction of the part of our personal ecosystem that protects and enhances sanity.

    I had decided that our culture is just not ready for this, having been indoctrinated with a plethora of myth which our current cognition is not able to overcome (see On The New Meaning of "Human").

    It is not likely that this current Petroleum Civilization will master an understanding of itself, thus, the only hope is for a better civilization when this one goes down very hard.

  3. Anonomous Lottakatz here, I became very interested in the nature of our microbial brothers and sisters a few years ago when a massive disruption and die-off among them brought a family member to death's door. It took a year to get under control. We are self contained worlds and like the macro world, discord and imbalance among its populations can be a world-killing circumstance.

    It's one of the reasons I don't eat sushi, meat that is not well done (burned to death, well done) or any animal product that hasn't had it's microbes killed. I don't want to introduce healthy, resident "alien" microbes into a (my) stable internal ecosystem. That's not even considering the microbes that might prey on the creatures I eat and be hitch-hiking, just talking about things native to the creatures I eat.

    I know, it sounds kind of nutty. Mea Culpa. I'm one of those folks that (as your speculation noted above) don't think we know enough about our place in the web of life or the web of life within us. We just don't know what is going on in our own bodies completely yet.

    Billions of microbes with life spans that are very short could lead to all kinds of mutations within their clan and effects that are unintended and small but magnify over time. Evolution is ongoing at every level of life. Why introduce interlopers? Still, I know it sounds nutty but it's not my only nutty idea, I'm OK with that.

    Our advances on the internal self-knowledge front are stunning but we don't have it all figured out yet. I'll hold off on the sushi until we do.

    Always a pleasure visiting your site Dredd.

  4. Anonomous Lottakatz,

    "Nutty" like you is the real sanity. Keep up the good work.

  5. Hi Dredd, Anonymous LK here, Some folks in my hometown have been busy:

    "Scientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis said the research paved the way for new therapies that tackle obesity by altering the types and numbers of bugs that make their home in the gut."

    I once read a statement to the effect that 'we're what DNA invented to get around.' That statement is not relevant to this research necessarily except that I am reminded of it when the issue of perspective comes up.

    I'm reading an article about a particular genus of corpse flower. Not the Amorphophallus species, a plant grown from bulbs, but the other one: 3' across bowl shaped flowers that are parasitic plants. They colonize a vine that is a member of the grape plant family in Madagascar.

    They seed the vine with its own cells as well as appropriating the vines primary DNA as well as mitochondrial DNA for its own -up to 30% worth of the primary DNA and around 3% of the mitochondrial DNA. It 'fools' the vine's immune system by becoming part of the vine. It is is some good part the vine and passes that 'vine-ness' on to its progeny. Pretty smart for a flower.

    From information in the article, while it is common for bacteria and microbes to engage in this kind of horizontal DNA appropriation it is not common in plants. That so much DNA is swapped out has excited the researchers studying this plant species. Research into this aspect of plant behavior is slight. These findings may also stimulate closer study of parasitism in humans and animals since DNA and gene swapping is a method of camouflage might explain why so many parasites seem to fly under the radar of the host immune system for as long as they do.

    Tangential yes, but again it's just an indication that things in the web of life are far stranger than we had ever imagined. Lol, everything is far stranger than we ever imagined.

    If my sending these things your way becomes redundant to your own research just let me know.

  6. Anonymous LK,

    I saw that article too. Good one.

    I am working on a post concerning a vast plant system of communication that is microbe based and inter-species.

    Here, you get a first look (Mycorrhizal Fungi: The World’s Biggest Drinking Straws And Largest Unseen Communication System).

  7. Hi Dredd, ALK here, are you Elio? or is this a link for reference?

    It's a fascinating article. I recall reading (decades ago) about the 'notion' that plants could communicate. The mechanism wasn't known and one of the speculations was that the plants released some kind of volatile molecules into the air (from the leaves or flowers) that would be taken up by neighboring plants. How far the inquiry has come!

    What also comes to mind is the habit of gardeners to plant companion plants among their gardens that have certain protective characteristics for their natural companion vegetables. How it worked was anybody's guess but it does work. This kind of research and its indications is an explanation that seems to fit the 'How?' perfectly.

    Very exciting stuff Dredd. Thanks for the preview.

  8. ALK,

    I am not Elio, that is a reference site. I have other papers and articles to meld into the upcoming post.

    One concerns microbes that were impacted by the Chicxulub asteroid/meteorite impact 85 mya which among other things destroyed the dinosaurs (SCAD).

    In the debris field at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, underneath the bottom, microbes have gone into a kind of stasis like science fiction writers imagine for long space travel (e.g. 100 year trip).

    Anyway these microbes are in SLOW motion as if they are experiencing time differently than we are.

    As a result the microbes live much longer and seem to be waiting to be discovered.

    Which is what happened, they were discovered, and those that were put into an environment away from that one, got back into time sync and developed a different metabolism which is presumed to be their original metabolic rate.

    Interesting stuff.

  9. typo ...

    Not "85 mya", should be "65 mya" ...