Tuesday, February 3, 2009
How do ants know what to do?
With a dusty backhoe, a handful of Japanese paint markers and a few students in tow, Deborah Gordon digs up ant colonies in the Arizona desert in search of keys to understanding complex systems.
Ant biologist Deborah M. Gordon has spent decades digging in the Arizona desert to decipher the chemical, genetic and behavioral codes of ant colonies. Contrary to the popular notion that colonies have evolved into efficient, organized systems, she has instead discovered that the long evolution of the ant colony has resulted in a system driven by accident, adaptation and the chaos and "noise" of unconscious communication.
Her studies of the harvester ant have shed light on the evolution of aggregate systems, whether biological or virtual, and may someday yield clues tracing the evolution of the brain from neuron to cortex.
Gordon, a Stanford professor, wrote the acclaimed book Ants at Work, outlining her discoveries in generous, nontechnical detail.