Distributed computing — breaking down large computational problems into smaller pieces and distributing them across several computers — is "all the rage," says KFC at the arXiv blog. Specifically, machines connected by a network and passing large messages back and forth — a so-called "message passing model" — is how much of the distributed computing that takes place on the Internet happens, KFC says. But there are limits, for example in the size of the message the machines are capable of sending and receiving.
Biological cells are also constrained in the information they can receive and transmit. However, KFC adds, "perhaps they can make up for their individual deficiencies by working as a group and so are just as capable as other networks." In a new study posted on arXiv, researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich show their model of the computing behavior of a network of finite-state machines capable of solving many standard distributed computing problems. "What's more, these networks can do the job just as efficiently — in a time that is poly-logarithmic with the number of cells," KFC says. "It provides a framework in which to study how networks of cells might solve other common problems in biological systems such as forward planning, trajectory calculations and so on. ... It is an exciting time to be a distributed computing specialist working in biology."