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Science 331 (6014): 183-185

Copyright © 2011 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science

A Biological Solution to a Fundamental Distributed Computing Problem

Yehuda Afek,1,* Noga Alon,1,2,* Omer Barad,3,* Eran Hornstein,3 Naama Barkai,3,{dagger} Ziv Bar-Joseph4,{dagger}

Abstract: Computational and biological systems are often distributed so that processors (cells) jointly solve a task, without any of them receiving all inputs or observing all outputs. Maximal independent set (MIS) selection is a fundamental distributed computing procedure that seeks to elect a set of local leaders in a network. A variant of this problem is solved during the development of the fly’s nervous system, when sensory organ precursor (SOP) cells are chosen. By studying SOP selection, we derived a fast algorithm for MIS selection that combines two attractive features. First, processors do not need to know their degree; second, it has an optimal message complexity while only using one-bit messages. Our findings suggest that simple and efficient algorithms can be developed on the basis of biologically derived insights.

1 Blavatnik School of Computer Science and Sackler School of Mathematics, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv 69978, Israel.
2 Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, NJ 08544, USA.
3 Department of Molecular Genetics, Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot 76100, Israel.
4 School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA 15213, USA.

* These authors contributed equally to this work.

{dagger} To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: naama.barkai{at} (N.B.); zivbj{at} (Z.B.-J.)

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