Logic units built by researchers using living slime moulds could act as the building blocks for computing devices and sensors.
The units were constructed using the slime mould Physarum polycephalum by exploiting networks of interconnected tubes, used by the organism to span its environment and absorb nutrients, to process information.
In earlier work, Andrew Adamatzky of the University of the West of England, UK, and Theresa Schubert of the Bauhaus-University Weimar, Germany, demonstrated that such a tube network could absorb and transport different coloured dyes.
They then fed it oat flakes to attract tube growth and common salt to repel them, enabling them to grow a network with a particular structure and demonstrate how this system could mix two dyes to make a third colour as an output.
In research published in the journal Materials Today, the team have now shown that using the dyes with magnetic nanoparticles and tiny fluorescent beads allowed them to use the slime mould network as a biological ‘lab-on-a-chip’ device.
"The slime mold based gates are non-electronic, simple and inexpensive, and several gates can be realized simultaneously at the sites where protoplasmic tubes merge," conclude Adamatzky and Schubert.
The method represents a new way to build microfluidic devices for processing environmental or medical samples on the very small scale for testing and diagnostics, say the researchers.
The team has so far demonstrated that a slime mould network can carry out XOR or NOR Boolean logic operations, based on Boolean algebra which has been fundamental in the development of computer science.
Chaining together arrays of such logic gates might allow a slime mould computer to carry out binary operations for computation, according to the team, and the extension to a much larger network of slime mould tubes could process nanoparticles and carry out sophisticated Boolean logic operations of the kind used by computer circuitry.
Stewart Bland, editor of Materials Today, said: "Although more traditional electronic materials are here to stay, research such as this is helping to push and blur the boundaries of materials science, computer science and biology, and represents an exciting prospect for the future."