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Yeast, yes, yeast, may hold the key for building better and more secure computer networks.

That’s the conclusion of a group of computer scientists at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh who declared that the defenses contained in yeast cells, and how they’ve evolved to protect themselves from environmental maladies, contain lessons that can be applied to designing effective computer networks and beyond that, helping analyze how secure they are.

The study, published today in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, was conducted by computer scientists from CMU’s Lane Center and the Machine Learning Department of the well-regarded university’s School of Computer Science. The National Institute of Health helped to finance the study.

CMU described the rationale of the study, and its conclusions, as follows:

“The generative model the CMU team developed can be used to tailor networks to the environments in which they are expected to operate. These strike a balance between highly connected networks that are efficient and fast but are prone to infections and cascading failures, such as the Internet and its large service providers, and more sparsely connected elements that are less efficient, requiring more time to relay information, but can better tolerate failures and attacks, such as peer to peer networks.”

The CMU team said that each yeast cell contains 6,000 genes and that 20 percent of those are considered necessary for their survival. You determine whether a gene is critical by seeing if a cell dies when you remove that gene. Team member Ziv Bar-Joseph, an associate professor at CMU, said that’s how scientists study genes, looking for the essentials for its survival and reasons for its demise.

Team member Saket Navlakha and CMU’s release put it like this:

“Just as biologists study genes by knocking them out, one by one, computer scientists often evaluate network security by removing a server and seeing how the network responds. But Navlakha said that’s not always realistic; many attacks or failures of computer and electrical networks can involve the loss of multiple, neighboring nodes.”

That, apparently, was the reason yeast was brought into the study. Or something like that.








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