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Professor Christopher Vinney
"There are people who are very interested in what we have found"
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Friday, 31 March, 2000, 12:49 GMT 13:49 UK
On the trail of the computer slug
Slug graphic
The research could advance computer science
Scientists at a Scottish university have discovered that the slime produced by slugs could help to create the next generation of computers.

Research at Heriot-Watt University say the shiny substance left by the garden creatures contains a special, sophisticated chemical code.

When they analysed the discharge, the scientists found a number of tiny crystals which have the ability to hold an infinite amount of information.

Communication tool

The researchers say these structures may soon be used to build chemical computers, in much the same way current machines use magnetic particles in binary code.

Slugs use the slime to communicate with each other.

One slug's trail, containing important directional information, will allow a second slug to follow.

Professor Christopher Viney explained: "The results that we have produced come out of a project one of my fourth year undergraduate students had been doing.

Although this is being done by a very slow creature, it could be very significant for making faster and more efficient computers

Professor Christopher Viney
"She was looking at what makes slug mucus a lubricant on some occasions and what makes it a glue on other occasions.

"And in order for her to come to the correct conclusions she looked at crystals which form in the trails in a moving slug.

"From the structures of those crystals we were able to look at how slugs use trails for navigational reasons.

Computer future

"Imagine a slug which crawls in front of you from right to left and a second slug sets off.

"The second slug goes towards the first trail and immediately knows in which direction that first slug has crawled.

"That tells us there is information in that first trail which has been written, stored and can be read.

"And if you can write information, read it and store it then you have the basis of information handling for a computer.

Information storage

"I believe there is a lot of people who are hoping to use chemicals rather than magnetic domains or optical material for storing such information."

Prof. Viney said that with chemical information storage, reading and writing can be performed quicker.

He also believes that more information can be stored than with current technology.

"And although this is being done by a very slow creature it could be very significant for making faster and more efficient computers," said Prof Viney.

The team of scientists say an artificial copy of the chemical trail could be used to design the memory of a chemical super-computer.

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