E. Coli: Intestinal Plague And Best Traffic Cop?

If you squint really hard, you might see the newest, most unlikely model for anxiety-free commutes: E. coli bacteria.

Chinese researchers have used bacterial foraging optimization, an algorithm, to vary traffic-light timing in order to grease vehicle flow at a single intersection in Guangzhou, the traffic-snarled capitol of Guandong province.

The BFO software mimics the behavior of E. coli as it searches for food. In experiments, the software increased traffic flow by almost one-third compared to the same intersection regulated by fixed timing, according to an article by the BBC.

When not providing a guide for urban transportation efficiency, the rod-shaped E. coli often can be found in the lower intestine of warm-blooded organisms. When inadvertently mixed with people food, E. coli can sicken and kill humans. 

The work, by scientists Qin Liu and Jianmin Xu, is based on so-called swarm intelligence. In this case, the collective reactions of billions of bacteria help steer the group effiencently toward greater concentrations of food.

The researchers modeled their research after this phenomenon, applying it to car density. Their model allowed traffic lights to fluctuate in duration according to traffic conditions. At rush hour, traffic lights switched from a fixed time cycle to a reactive pattern.

Someday, the evil lurking in the hamburger you just ate might be your only hope for getting to the emergency room in time.

Photo by Grzegorz Łobiński