License: Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license (CC BY 3.0)
When quoting this document, please refer to the following
DOI: 10.4230/LIPIcs.DISC.2019.19
URN: urn:nbn:de:0030-drops-113267
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Gilbert, Seth ; Maguire, James ; Newport, Calvin

On Bioelectric Algorithms

LIPIcs-DISC-2019-19.pdf (0.5 MB)


Cellular bioelectricity describes the biological phenomenon in which cells in living tissue generate and maintain patterns of voltage gradients across their membranes induced by differing concentrations of charged ions. A growing body of research suggests that bioelectric patterns represent an ancient system that plays a key role in guiding many important developmental processes including tissue regeneration, tumor suppression, and embryogenesis. This paper applies techniques from distributed algorithm theory to help better understand how cells work together to form these patterns. To do so, we present the cellular bioelectric model (CBM), a new computational model that captures the primary capabilities and constraints of bioelectric interactions between cells and their environment. We use this model to investigate several important topics from the relevant biology research literature. We begin with symmetry breaking, analyzing a simple cell definition that when combined in single hop or multihop topologies, efficiently solves leader election and the maximal independent set problem, respectively - indicating that these classical symmetry breaking tasks are well-matched to bioelectric mechanisms. We then turn our attention to the information processing ability of bioelectric cells, exploring upper and lower bounds for approximate solutions to threshold and majority detection, and then proving that these systems are in fact Turing complete - resolving an open question about the computational power of bioelectric interactions.

BibTeX - Entry

  author =	{Seth Gilbert and James Maguire and Calvin Newport},
  title =	{{On Bioelectric Algorithms}},
  booktitle =	{33rd International Symposium on Distributed Computing (DISC 2019)},
  pages =	{19:1--19:17},
  series =	{Leibniz International Proceedings in Informatics (LIPIcs)},
  ISBN =	{978-3-95977-126-9},
  ISSN =	{1868-8969},
  year =	{2019},
  volume =	{146},
  editor =	{Jukka Suomela},
  publisher =	{Schloss Dagstuhl--Leibniz-Zentrum fuer Informatik},
  address =	{Dagstuhl, Germany},
  URL =		{},
  URN =		{urn:nbn:de:0030-drops-113267},
  doi =		{10.4230/LIPIcs.DISC.2019.19},
  annote =	{Keywords: biological distributed algorithms, bioelectric networks, natural algorithms}

Keywords: biological distributed algorithms, bioelectric networks, natural algorithms
Collection: 33rd International Symposium on Distributed Computing (DISC 2019)
Issue Date: 2019
Date of publication: 08.10.2019

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