Much to humans' chagrin, bacteria have superior survival skills. Their decision-making processes and collective behaviors allow them to thrive and even spread efficiently in difficult environments.
Now researchers at Tel Aviv University have developed a computational model that better explains how bacteria move in a swarm — and this model can be applied to man-made technologies, including computers, artificial intelligence, and robotics. Ph.D. student Adi Shklarsh — with her supervisor Prof. Eshel Ben-Jacob of TAU's Sackler School of Physics and Astronomy, Gil Ariel from Bar Ilan University and Elad Schneidman from the Weizmann Institute of Science — has discovered how bacteria collectively gather information about their environment and find an optimal path to growth, even in the most complex terrains.
Studying the principles of bacteria navigation will allow researchers to design a new generation of smart robots that can form intelligent swarms, aid in the development of medical micro-robots used to diagnose or distribute medications in the body, or "de-code" systems used in social networks and throughout the Internet to gather information on consumer behaviors. The research was recently published in PLoS Computational Biology.
A dash of bacterial self-confidence
Bacteria aren't the only organisms that travel in swarms, says Shklarsh. Fish, bees, and birds also exhibit collective navigation. But as simple organisms with less sophisticated receptors, bacteria are not as well-equipped to deal with large amounts of information or "noise" in the complex environments they navigate, such as human tissue. The assumption has been, she says, that bacteria would be at a disadvantage compared to other swarming organisms.
But in a surprising discovery, the researchers found that computationally, bacteria actually have superior survival tactics, finding "food" and avoiding harm more easily than swarms such as amoeba or fish. Their secret? A liberal amount of self-confidence.
Many animal swarms, Shklarsh explains, can be harmed by "erroneous positive feedback," a common side effect of navigating complex terrains. This occurs when a subgroup of the swarm, based on wrong information, leads the entire group in the wrong direction. But bacteria communicate differently, through molecular, chemical and mechanical means, and can avoid this pitfall.
Based on confidence in their own information and decisions, "bacteria can adjust their interactions with their peers," Prof. Ben-Jacob says. "When an individual bacterium finds a more beneficial path, it pays less attention to the signals from the other cells. But at other times, upon encountering challenging paths, the individual cell will increase its interaction with the other cells and learn from its peers. Since each of the cells adopts the same strategy, the group as a whole is able to find an optimal trajectory in an extremely complex terrain."
Benefitting from short-term memory
In the computer model developed by the TAU researchers, bacteria decreased their peers' influence while navigating in a beneficial direction, but listened to each other when they sensed they were failing. This is not only a superior way to operate, but a simple one as well. Such a model shows how a swarm can perform optimally with only simple computational abilities and short term memory, says Shklarsh, It's also a principle that can be used to design new and more efficient technologies.
Robots are often required to navigate complex environments, such as terrains in space, deep in the sea, or the online world, and communicate their findings among themselves. Currently, this is based on complex algorithms and data structures that use a great deal of computer resources. Understanding the secrets of bacteria swarms, Shklarsh concludes, can provide crucial hints towards the design of new generation robots that are programmed to perform adjustable interactions without taking up a great amount of data or memory.
American Friends of Tel Aviv University (www.aftau.org) supports Israel's leading, most comprehensive and most sought-after center of higher learning. Independently ranked 94th among the world's top universities for the impact of its research, TAU's innovations and discoveries are cited more often by the global scientific community than all but 10 other universities.
Internationally recognized for the scope and groundbreaking nature of its research and scholarship, Tel Aviv University consistently produces work with profound implications for the future.
George Hunka | Source: EurekAlert!
Further information: www.aftau.org
More articles from Interdisciplinary Research:
Stingray movement could inspire the next generation of submarines
14.11.2013 | University at Buffalo
An intersection of math and biology: Clams and snails inspire robotic diggers and crawlers
12.11.2013 | Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics
Quantum entanglement, a perplexing phenomenon of quantum mechanics that Albert Einstein once referred to as “spooky action at a distance,” could be even spookier than Einstein perceived.
Physicists at the University of Washington and Stony Brook University in New York believe the phenomenon might be intrinsically linked with wormholes, hypothetical features of space-time that in popular science fiction can provide a much-faster-than-light shortcut from one part of the universe to another.
But here’s the catch: One couldn’t actually ...
A star is formed when a large cloud of gas and dust condenses and eventually becomes so dense that it collapses into a ball of gas, where the pressure heats the matter, creating a glowing gas ball – a star is born.
New research from the Niels Bohr Institute, among others, shows that a young, newly formed star in the Milky Way had such an explosive growth, that it was initially about 100 times brighter than it is now. The results are published in the scientific journal, Astrophysical Journal Letters.
The young ...
EPFL scientists have shown how to achieve a dramatic increase in the capacity of optical fibers; Their simple, innovative solution reduces the amount of space required between the pulses of light that transport data
Optical fibers carry data in the form of pulses of light over distances of thousands of miles at amazing speeds. They are one of the glories of modern telecommunications technology.
However, their capacity is limited, because the pulses of light need to be lined up one after the other in ...
NASA's Hurricane and Severe Storms Sentinel airborne mission known as HS3 wrapped up for the 2013 Atlantic Ocean hurricane season at the end of September, and had several highlights. HS3 will return to NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Wallops Island, Va., for the 2014 Atlantic hurricane season.
During the 2013 mission, two unmanned Global Hawks flew from Wallops for the first time. The mission highlights included studying the Saharan Air Layer, following the genesis of a tropical storm, finding a unique hybrid core or center circulation in a redeveloped storm, obtaining measurements on the strongest side of ...
Nanosponges that soak up a dangerous pore-forming toxin produced by MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) could serve as a safe and effective vaccine against this toxin.
This "nanosponge vaccine" enabled the immune systems of mice to block the adverse effects of the alpha-haemolysin toxin from MRSA—both within the bloodstream and on the skin. Nanoengineers from the University of California, San Diego described the safety and efficacy of this nanosponge vaccine in the December 1 issue of ...
04.12.2013 | Health and Medicine
04.12.2013 | Materials Sciences
04.12.2013 | Ecology, The Environment and Conservation
04.12.2013 | Event News
12.11.2013 | Event News
29.10.2013 | Event News