Lab showcases “living” motherboard powered by fungi

The Unconventional Computing Laboratory (UCL) in the UK has provided Popular Science with a look into its research into wetware, the idea of applying hardware and software concepts to living creatures.

One of the devices UCL showcased was a “living” motherboard that uses the web-like root structure of fungi known as mycelium to replace conventional conductor and PC components, like the processor.

In nature, fungi use mycelium to interact and understand their environment and other organisms around them.

Research lead professor Andrew Adamatzky had determined that mycelium behaved similarly to neurons in the human brain, which uses spiking activity and patterns for communication.

Mycelium communication could therefore be converted into a binary language similar to what computers use, with the presence or absence of a spike translated as a one or zero.

Different timing and spacing of spikes can be used to correlate with the logic gates used in computer programming, like “or”, “and”, or “not”.

In addition, the researchers found that stimulating mycelium at two different points could increase conductivity between them and allow them to communicate faster or more reliably.

This is not too different from how brain cells form habits and allows mycelium to retain memory.

By using different geometries of mycelium, the researchers can compute various logical functions, which can be mapped based on the electrical responses received.

“It’s possible to implement neuromorphic circuits,” said Adamatzky. “We can say I’m planning to make a brain from mushrooms.”

Among the numerous types of fungi that the researchers have used is caterpillar fungi from the Cordyceps genus.

That name will be all too familiar to fans of the hit video game and TV show The Last of Us.

Caterpillar fungi

Adamatzky told Popular Science that the research was still in its early days and that feasibility was the main focus at this point.

“We’re just demonstrating that it’s possible to implement computation, and it’s possible to implement basic logical circuits and basic electronic circuits with mycelium,” he said.

“In the future, we can grow more advanced mycelium computers and control devices.”

While fungal computers won’t ever be able to compete with the speed of today’s PCs, they can offer some benefits, including:

  • Being more fault tolerant by self-regenerating
  • Being reconfigurable as they can grow and evolve
  • Consuming very little energy
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