Select your localized edition:

Close ×

More Ways to Connect

Discover one of our 28 local entrepreneurial communities »

Be the first to know as we launch in new countries and markets around the globe.

Interested in bringing MIT Technology Review to your local market?

MIT Technology ReviewMIT Technology Review - logo

 

Unsupported browser: Your browser does not meet modern web standards. See how it scores »

Fruit flies have long been a favorite research subject for biologists, but now they’re unlocking secrets for computer scientists as well. Specifically, researchers used insights into how a fruit fly’s nervous system develops to design a new algorithm that could prove useful for wireless networking, routing, and other network protocols.

When a wireless network gets deployed, it has to be organized to get information to every node in the network efficiently. One way to do this is to assign certain nodes to be leaders responsible for their own smaller areas of the network (called the “maximal independent set”). But assigning these leaders quickly and efficiently, with a minimum of back and forth communication, has been an open problem in distributed computing for a long time.

According to a paper published in Science, current algorithms are designed to know things about how a network is set up—such as how many neighbors each node is connected to. This doesn’t jibe well the flexibility that wireless networks offer.

In the fruit fly, the researchers saw the flexibility and efficiency they wanted for wireless networks expressed in nature. While the fly’s nervous system is developing in the larval and pupal stages, it selects “sensory organ precursors” that play a similar role to the leader nodes in a wireless network. The fly’s nervous system does this, however, without having any information about how cells are connected—or, to follow the analogy, about how the network is built.

The researchers studied this process and came up with an algorithm for distributed computing based on it. They say it runs slightly slower than current solutions, but can be applied more broadly because it can work in more difficult conditions.

0 comments about this story. Start the discussion »

Tagged: Communications, wireless, networks, algorithms, networking, fruit flies

Reprints and Permissions | Send feedback to the editor

From the Archives

Close

Introducing MIT Technology Review Insider.

Already a Magazine subscriber?

You're automatically an Insider. It's easy to activate or upgrade your account.

Activate Your Account

Become an Insider

It's the new way to subscribe. Get even more of the tech news, research, and discoveries you crave.

Sign Up

Learn More

Find out why MIT Technology Review Insider is for you and explore your options.

Show Me
×

A Place of Inspiration

Understand the technologies that are changing business and driving the new global economy.

September 23-25, 2014
Register »