How biology creates networks that are cheap, robust, and efficient | 10/3/2016 | Staff
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From veins that deliver oxygen to tissues to xylem that send water into stems and leaves, vascular networks are a crucial component of life. In biology, there is a wide range of unique patterns, like the individualized structures found on leaves, along with many conserved structures, such as named arteries and veins in the human body. These two observations led scientists to think that vascular networks evolved from a common design, but how, exactly, could nature create so many complex structures from a single starting point?

A new study shows how a wide variety of vascular networks can be created by changing only a small number of a network's attributes. Published in Physical Review Letters, the work of two physicists, former Penn postdoc Henrik Ronellenfitsch and professor Eleni Katifori, shows that vascular networks evolve through a tradeoff between how well the network can transport fluid, a network's "cost," or how many cells it takes to build the network, and its robustness, or how well the system works if part of the structure is damaged.

Research - Katifori - Ronellenfitsch - Work - Adaptation

This research builds off Katifori and Ronellenfitsch's previous work on "adaptation equations," mathematical models of systems that are good at a specific function, such as moving fluid. In this study, they wanted to see if their adaptation equation could get vascular networks to "self-organize" into the most efficient structure possible.

To test their idea, the researchers applied their adaptation equation on a large collection of simulated vascular networks to see what combinations of attributes could be changed to create new structures. Ronellenfitsch then took the resulting networks and applied a mathematical tool, one commonly used in economics and finance, to compare the efficiency of different network designs.

Researchers - Costs - Benefits - Trade-offs - Concept

When researchers want to analyze the costs and benefits of different trade-offs, they rely on a concept known as Pareto efficiency. As an...
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