Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Leaf veins inspire a new model for distribution networks

Date:
March 3, 2010
Source:
Rockefeller University
Summary:
A straight line may be the shortest path from A to B, but it's not always the most reliable or efficient way to go. In fact, depending on what's traveling where, the best route may run in circles, according to a new model that bucks decades of theorizing on the subject. A team of biophysicists have developed a mathematical model showing that complex sets of interconnecting loops -- like the netted veins that transport water in a leaf -- provide the best distribution network for supplying fluctuating loads to varying parts of the system. It also shows that such a network can best handle damage.

Running in circles. New research shows that a distribution network of interconnected loops like the one in the lemon leaf (bottom) is better able to handle damage (green hole) and fluctuating loads than the more straightforward -- and evolutionarily more ancient -- distribution system in the gingko (top).
Credit: Image courtesy of Rockefeller University

A straight line may be the shortest path from A to B, but it's not always the most reliable or efficient way to go. In fact, depending on what's traveling where, the best route may run in circles, according to a new model that bucks decades of theorizing on the subject. A team of biophysicists at Rockefeller University developed a mathematical model showing that complex sets of interconnecting loops -- like the netted veins that transport water in a leaf -- provide the best distribution network for supplying fluctuating loads to varying parts of the system. It also shows that such a network can best handle damage.

The findings could change the way engineers think about designing networks to handle a variety of challenges like the distribution of water or electricity in a city.

Operations researchers have long believed that the best distribution networks for many scenarios look like trees, with a succession of branches stemming from a central stalk and then branches from those branches and so on, to the desired destinations. But this kind of network is vulnerable: If it is severed at any place, the network is cut in two and cargo will fail to reach any point "downstream" of the break.

By contrast, in the leaves of most complex plants, evolution has devised a system to distribute water that is more supple in at least two key ways. Plants are under constant attack from bugs, diseases, animals and the weather. If a leaf's distribution network were tree-like and damaged, the part of the leaf downstream of the damage would starve for water and die. In some of the Earth's more ancient plants, such as the gingko, this is the case. But many younger, more sophisticated plants have evolved a vein system of interconnected loops that can reroute water around any damage, providing many paths to any given point, as in the lemon leaf. Operations researchers have appreciated that these redundancies are an effective hedge against damage. What's most surprising in the new research, according to

Marcelo O. Magnasco, head of the Laboratory of Mathematical Physics at Rockefeller University, is that the complex network also does a better job of handling fluctuating loads according to shifts in demand from different parts of the system -- a common real-world need within dynamic distribution networks.

"For decades, people have believed that the tree-like network was optimal for fluctuating demand," Magnasco says. "These findings could seriously shake things up. People will have to take another look at how they design these kinds of systems."

In a paper published as the cover story of the January 29 Physical Review Letters, Magnasco, lead researcher Eleni Katifori, a fellow at Rockefeller's Center for Studies in Physics and Biology, and colleagues lay out a model that assigns a cost to each section of leaf vein proportional to how much water it can carry. They looked for networks that suffered the least strain in the face of two challenges common in both leaves and human-built networks: damage to a randomly chosen segment of the network and changes in the load demanded by different parts of the network. In both scenarios, they found the most robust system was a complex, hierarchical network of nested loops, similar to the fractal-like web of veins that transport water in leaves. This loopy network design is also found in the blood vessels of the retina, the architecture of some corals and the structural veins of insect wings.

Katifori is now extending the research to delve more deeply into how distribution networks handle fluctuating loads, guided by nature's own solution in the leaf.

"It is tempting to ignore the loops, because the central veins stand out and have a tree-like form," Katifori says. "But they are all connected, and the loops are right there to see, if you just look at the leaf."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Rockefeller University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Katifori et al. Damage and Fluctuations Induce Loops in Optimal Transport Networks. Physical Review Letters, 2010; 104 (4): 048704 DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.104.048704

Cite This Page:

Rockefeller University. "Leaf veins inspire a new model for distribution networks." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 March 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/02/100227214036.htm>.
Rockefeller University. (2010, March 3). Leaf veins inspire a new model for distribution networks. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 22, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/02/100227214036.htm
Rockefeller University. "Leaf veins inspire a new model for distribution networks." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/02/100227214036.htm (accessed October 22, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Cadaver Dogs Aid Search for More Victims of Suspected Indiana Serial Killer

Cadaver Dogs Aid Search for More Victims of Suspected Indiana Serial Killer

Reuters - US Online Video (Oct. 21, 2014) Police in Gary, Indiana are using cadaver dogs to search for more victims after a suspected serial killer confessed to killing at least seven women. Linda So reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
White Lion Cubs Unveiled to the Public

White Lion Cubs Unveiled to the Public

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Oct. 21, 2014) Visitors to Belgrade zoo meet a pair of three-week-old lion cubs for the first time. Tara Cleary reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
'Cadaver Dog' Sniffs out Human Remains

'Cadaver Dog' Sniffs out Human Remains

AP (Oct. 21, 2014) Where's a body buried? Buster's nose can often tell you. He's a cadaver dog, specially trained to find human remains and increasingly being used by law enforcement and accepted in courts. These dogs are helping solve even decades-old mysteries. (Oct. 21) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
White Lion Cubs Born in Belgrade Zoo

White Lion Cubs Born in Belgrade Zoo

AFP (Oct. 20, 2014) Two white lion cubs, an extremely rare subspecies of the African lion, were recently born at Belgrade Zoo. They are being bottle fed by zoo keepers after they were rejected by their mother after birth. Duration: 00:42 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins