Obtaining multiple separate food sources: behavioural intelligence in the Physarum plasmodium

T. Nakagaki, R. Kobayashi, Y. Nishiura, T. Ueda


To evaluate performance in a complex survival task, we studied the morphology of the Physarum plasmodium transportation network when presented with multiple separate food sources. The plasmodium comprises a network of tubular elements through which chemical nutrient, intracellular signals and the viscous body are transported and circulated. When three separate food sources were presented, located at the vertices of a triangle, the tubular network connected them via a short pathway, which was often analogous to the mathematically shortest route known as Steiner's minimum tree (SMT). The other common network shape had high fault tolerance against accidental disconnection of the tubes and was known as cycle (CYC). Pattern selection appeared to be a bistable system involving SMT and CYC. When more than three food sources were presented, the network pattern tended to be a patchwork of SMT and CYC. We therefore concluded that the plasmodium tube network is a well designed and intelligent system.