Journal Article The role of noise in self-organized decision making by the true slime mold Physarum polycephalum

Meyer, Bernd  ,  Ansorge, Cedrick  ,  Nakagaki, Toshiyuki

12 ( 3 )  , p.e0172933 , 2017-03-29 , PLOS
Self-organized mechanisms are frequently encountered in nature and known to achieve flexible, adaptive control and decision-making. Noise plays a crucial role in such systems: It can enable a self-organized system to reliably adapt to short-term changes in the environment while maintaining a generally stable behavior. This is fundamental in biological systems because they must strike a delicate balance between stable and flexible behavior. In the present paper we analyse the role of noise in the decision-making of the true slime mold Physarum polycephalum, an important model species for the investigation of computational abilities in simple organisms. We propose a simple biological experiment to investigate the reaction of P. polycephalum to time-variant risk factors and present a stochastic extension of an established mathematical model for P. polycephalum to analyze this experiment. It predicts that-due to the mechanism of stochastic resonance D noise can enable P. polycephalum to correctly assess time-variant risk factors, while the corresponding noise-free system fails to do so. Beyond the study of P. polycephalum we demonstrate that the influence of noise on self-organized decision-making is not tied to a specific organism. Rather it is a general property of the underlying process dynamics, which appears to be universal across a wide range of systems. Our study thus provides further evidence that stochastic resonance is a fundamental component of the decision-making in self-organized macroscopic and microscopic groups and organisms.

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