Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Adaptive Network Design, Biology, Railroads, and Operations Research

What can biology teach us about adaptive network design? That is the question underlying an article in The New York Times that is reporting on the paper published in Science by Tero, Takagi, and co-authors, entitled, Rules for Biologically Inspired Adaptive Network Design. The article appears in the January 22, 2010 edition of Science, pp. 439-442. The Times article with the catchy title, Slime Mold Proves to be a Brainy Blob, intrigued me so I also read the scientific article that it was based on.

Interestingly, the researchers, based in Japan and England, used amoeba to "reproduce" the rail network of Tokyo and also developed a basic mathematical model for adaptive network design.

They, however, do not cite any literature prior to 1996 and, coincidentally, as I have been writing in this blog, Northwestern University is hosting a Symposium on Transportation Network Design and Economics this coming Friday to mark the visit of Professor Martin Beckmann who co-authored a landmark book on transportation, which discussed decentralized versus centralized behavior, with mathematical models, in 1956!

Nevertheless, I was pleased to see that the authors of the Science article cited (as their earliest reference) a paper published in 1996 in the International Transactions in Operational Research (ITOR), which I am on the editorial board of, and which is now edited by Celso Ribeiro of Brazil. That article, Heuristics from Nature for Hard Combinatorial Optimization Problems, was authored by Colorni, Dorigo, and others, who are based in Italy.

Interestingly, the ecology community, led by Mullon and colleagues in France, which is also part of the biology community, is now also applying concepts of network equilibrium from operations research and economics, as their work on (with special relevance to fisheries) demonstrates. Indeed, my Network Economics book has inspired, in part, their work and they acknowledge accordingly.