Scientists have developed a “living computer” made from fungi, showing that wetware, the concept of fusing hardware and software with living tissue that has been used in science fiction, can be applied in real life.
Researchers at the Unconventional Computing Laboratory (UCL) at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) were the ones who developed this machine, according to a report published on the website of tech spot.
According to lead researcher Professor Andrew Adamatzky, fungi are an ideal organism to experiment with because their mycelium acts very similarly to the human brain. Mycelia are thin, hair-like parts of a fungus’ root system that can transmit electrical impulses, not unlike synapses.
In fact, fungi connected to the same network of underground mycelia can sometimes communicate with electrical signals over considerable distances.
Fungi, analog components
The scientists used the mushrooms as analogous components of the motherboard. Spikes of electrical activity, or the lack thereof, are translated into ones and zeros, respectively, mimicking the ingrained binary language of computers.
Adamatzky detailed to Popular Science: “We actually found that fungi produce spikes similar to those of an action potential. The same spikes that neurons produce.”
“We are the first lab to report fungal spike activity measured by microelectrodes, and the first to develop fungal computing and fungal electronics.”
Unsurprisingly, mushroom computers can’t be compared to traditional hardware. While Adamatzky argues that stimulating the mushroom at two separate points increases conductivity for faster, more reliable communication, it’s nowhere near the speed of solid-state electronics.
“Right now, they are just feasibility studies. We’re just showing that it’s possible to implement computing, and it’s possible to implement basic logic circuits and basic electronic circuits with mycelium. In the future, we can develop more advanced computers and spawn control devices.”