This paper seeks to develop experimental laboratory biological techniques for approximation of existing road networks, optimizing transport links, and designing alternative optimal solutions to current transport problems. It studies how slime mould of Physarum polycephalum approximate highway networks of Brazil.
The 21 most populous urban areas in Brazil are considered and represented with source of nutrients placed in the positions of slime mould growing substrate corresponding to the areas. At the beginning of each experiment slime mould is inoculated in São Paulo area. Slime mould exhibits foraging behavior and spans sources of nutrients (which represent urban areas) with a network of protoplasmic tubes (which approximate vehicular transport networks). The structure of transport networks developed by slime mould are analyzed and compared with families of known proximity graphs. The paper also imitates slime‐mould response to simulated disaster.
It was found that the plasmodium of P. polycephalum develops a minimal approximation of a transport network spanning urban areas. Physarum‐developed network matches man‐made highway network very well. The high degree of similarity is preserved even when high‐demand constraints are placed on repeatability of links in the experiments. Physarum approximates almost all major transport links. In response to a sudden disaster, gradually spreading from its epicenter, the Physarum transport networks react by abandoning transport links affected by disaster zone, enhancement of those unaffected directly by the disaster, massive sprouting from the epicenter, and increase of scouting activity in the regions distant to the epicenter of the disaster.
Experimental methods and computer analysis techniques presented in the paper lay a foundation of novel biological laboratory approaches to imitation and prognostication of socio‐economical developments.
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