Roots - more than the sum of its apexes
The plant as a swarm
Considering a plant as a swarm of individuals is not a new concept, as it was firstly described in 1800 by Erasmus Darwin (Darwin, 1800). At that time, plant-philosophers discussed the individual 'minds' of plant apexes (mostly those of the sprout) and their power to turn into an entire plant when cut off and put into soil as joining a greater organism and functioning similar to a swarm of individual animals. In later discussions this swarm concept was dismissed as a philosophical concept but still the absence of a central master mind and the distribution of decision loci led to the formulation of meta-population to characterize plants (White, 1979).
Trying to infer basic operational principles from plants, and in this case root swarms, for implementation on engineering the design of efficient exploration algorithms has the advantage that the exploration strategy’s blueprint is imprinted on the root and directly observable. Contrary to other biological systems for which thousands of experimental trials have to be observed in order to deduce patterns in the exploration strategies, in the case of roots these strategies are available and at our disposal right from the start. Even if the social-insect metaphor is straightforward for implementation on engineering the design of efficient exploration algorithms, it suffers from an inherent disadvantage: the exploration of an unknown terrain (or volume) is done before the discovery of food sites, etc. and hence is very difficult to systematically observe.
In this project we analyse plant roots upon their similarities and dissimilarities to commonly known swarms by modelling root growth and evolving the rule set to determine the most relevant rules.
This work is conducted by Tobias Seidl, Christos Ampatzis and Dario Izzo in cooperation with Luis Simoes, Rita Ribeiro, (both Universidade Nova de Lisboa) Luis Correia and Cristina Cruz (both Universidade de Lisboa) within the Ariadna Framework.