Fruit flies could hold key to smarter networks

By Stewart Mitchell on Jan 17, 2011 9:38 AM
Filed under Communications

Studies show how fruit fly development establishes robust intra-cell communications.

Scientists believe that studying the development of fruit flies could lead to a new breed of network that is more efficient and robust than human-designed infrastructures.

According to experts from Carnegie Mellon University in the US and Tel Aviv University in Israel, the way that a fruit fly arranges the hair-like structures it uses to sense the world around it could be a blueprint for wireless sensor networks and other distributed systems.

"It is such a simple and intuitive solution, I can't believe we did not think of this 25 years ago," said Noga Alon, a mathematician and computer scientist at Tel Aviv University.

"Computational and mathematical models have long been used by scientists to analyse biological systems," Alon said. "Here we've reversed the strategy, studying a biological system to solve a long-standing computer science problem."

Cells in a fly's nervous system organise themselves with very little internal communication by choosing leader cells that provide direct connections with every other nerve cell.

The result is similar to the schemes used to manage distributed computer networks, but the method used by the fly's nervous system is much simpler and more robust than anything humans have concocted.

Using such a self-building system for network infrastructures, the scientists say, would be more efficient because “leader nodes” would identify themselves more quickly and with much less network overhead.

“In computing network [the node] selection process is rapid,” the researchers said. “But it entails lots of complicated messages being sent back and forth across the network, and it requires that all of the processors know in advance how they are connected in the network.

"That can be a problem for applications such as wireless sensor networks, where sensors might be distributed randomly and all might not be within communication range of each other.”

The scientists' algorithm would allow the network to find its optimal layout based only upon information about neighbouring computers.

This article originally appeared at

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Fruit flies could hold key to smarter networks
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