And now for something completely different….

For a few decades now, scientists have been studying a particular kind of “slime mold” that is able to process information and solve complex problems — despite being a primeval, single-cell organism.

For instance, expanding slime molds can navigate complex mazes to find the optimum route to food, and they leave chemical trails that function as a kind of memory. The organism has no brain or nervous system, yet appears to reason and remember in ways that science doesn’t quite understand.

Slime Mold Solves Mazes

A specific sort of slime mold — Plasmodium polycephalum to its friends — is back in the news this week with a new report out of Britain. According to the study, the slime mold was able to accurately imitate the development of Roman roads dating back to the 1st century BCE.

Th The researchers discovered that the mold — tested within a computer-aided simulation — sussed out the most efficient network of roads for a particular area in the Balkans 2,000 years ago. In fact, the slime mold’s network matched up with the actual roads that historians believe the Romans built during that era.

What’s particularly compelling about the results is that the mold was able to solve certain mapping dilemmas that even the most advanced computer simulations can’t quite crack, according to the paper’s co-author Andrew Adamatzky, a professor in unconventional computing from UWE Bristol: “Research done during the last decade has shown that the slime mold can physically imitate technological artifacts and processes in a variety of ways undetected by conventional computational methods.”

Living Computer Created with Slime Mold?

Researchers in Japan are also exploring slime mold’s odd information-processing abilities, and have demonstrated that the organism has potential utility in designing urban transportation systems, or even as logic circuits in bio-computers modeled after the human brain.

The paper from the British team, “Slime Mould Imitates Development of Roman Roads in the Balkans” was published this week in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports.

The future, apparently, belongs to slime.