Biological systems reveal exquisite adaptive qualities that may prove useful to various human endeavors such as designing traffic networks to overcome accident delays, improved plane traffic patterns, or computer network routing protocols. Fungi provide just such a model and a number of researchers
are now beginning to explore their biology as computational models for complex adaptive systems.
Fungi develop in a non-linear fashion using branching, filamentous growth (hyphae) to form a network (mycelium). They cover a large surface area for the total mass produced and their form is considered indeterminate, since no characteristic scale exists for the variety of fungi. The branching pattern is fractal and reflects a pulsed response that alternates between exploitive growth in response to ecological signals and/or defensive maneuvers, and explorative growth to obtain nutrients from the surrounding environment. They are also capable of self healing, reconnecting hyphae that are disrupted.
Growth, nutrient uptake and secondary metabolite formation (mycotoxins) occurs at the hyphal tip. The mycotoxins are used as a defense against other microbes and can be used to gain access to plant root tissue in the soil, although not all fungi make mycotoxins. Fungi can reroute resources in response to their environment, either to evade an attack or to move toward in a more nutrient rich environment. Translocation recycles both structural and internal components. Many form spores when the surroundings are inhospitable for growth, a survival mechanism that allows them to re-emerge once conditions improve.
The qualities that make them a model complex adaptive system include fractal structure, simultaneous coordination and decentralization, self organization, emergent qualities from interaction with a changing ecology, adaptive remodeling, self optimization and robustness. So next time you throw away moldy food, consider what you are wasting.