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Institute of Advanced Study

Past Events

IAS Fellow's Public Lecture - The Third Mode of Life: information transfer in networked organisms

20th February 2017, 17:30 to 18:30, Joachim Room, College of St Hild and St Bede, Professor Mark Fricker, University of Oxford

Fungi form extensive interconnected mycelial networks that scavenge efficiently for scarce and ephemeral resources in a patchy environment, in the face of aggressive competition from other fungi and predation by soil micro-fauna. Exploration, repair and combat require internal transport of nutrients from spatially disparate sources to these rapidly altering sinks. Thus, the network architecture and internal flows continuously adapt to local nutritional cues, damage or predation, through growth, branching, fusion or regression. As these organisms do not have any centralized control system, we infer their relatively sophisticated behavior has to emerge from parallel implementation of many local decisions that collectively manage to solve this complex, dynamic combinatorial optimization problem. To understand how such behavior is achieved and coordinated, we have developed combined imaging and modelling approaches to characterize the network structure, link the structure to predicted nutrient transport, based on models of fluid flow dynamics, and then test these predictions using experimental measurement of nutrient flows using photon-counting scintillation imaging. We have also explored control of network development in the acellular slime mold, Physarum polycephalum, which is taxonomically completely unrelated to the network forming fungi, being essentially a single giant animal cell, yet appears to exemplify common solutions to self-organised adaptive network formation driven by fluid flows, local rules and oscillatory behavior. In contrast to single celled organisms and other multicellular organisms, we propose that networked organisms constitute a ‘Third Mode of Life’ in which complex behaviour emerges as a result of intrinsically coupled, adaptive networks with a distributed processing architecture.

This lecture is free and open to all.

Details about Professor Mark Fricker

Directions to Joachim Room, College of St Hild & St Bede

Map - College of St Hild & St Bede is denoted as building No. 30

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