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Revision as of 09:51, 7 April 2016


Physarum Polycephalum Maps

Mapping Mexican Drug War


Drug trafficking is a major world problem, one of the main countries involved in this violence and trade is Mexico. A 2015 Congressional Research Service report estimates at least 80,000 people were killed in Mexico due to in organized crime related incidents since 2006. Most of the organized crime relies on drug trafficking.

There are many things involved in drug traffic, even though it is all about money and power, it is also about connections, who works for whom, how many people are involved, what's the amount of land they "own", etc.. In this case power to drug dealers is food for physarum polycephalum.

Narco Cultivos is a metaphor and a way of analyzing how primitive this business can be, compared to physarum polycephalum. I call it primitive for they "think" but they also act as an instinct. Little by little important cities are attacked in a 3D printed version of Mexico where physarum polycephalum lies. The way this organism moves in reaction to more or less food, gives us an insight of what would happened with power, control, drugs movement or even people if drug cartels were to be attacked.

Drug dealing is one of the biggest and most important problems in Mexico. It is all about power and it would be really hard to get rid of the problem as a whole. It is all about power.


A 3D printed version of Mexico will be displace in a petri dish. The most important drug cartels or cities involved in drug trade will be identify and an oat will be placed in each one of those cities. A series of time lapses will be recorded to monitor physarum's movement to get the connections between these cities.

Little by little food will be removed from the most powerful cartel while more oats will be distributed in other areas with the hypothesis that this would be a way to attack the drug dealing business in Mexico. The way physarum moves or "runs away" once they run out of food in one area would give us an insight of where the people or the problem (violence and trade) from the cartels would run to.

There are many things involved in the drug dealing business, . Narco cultivos is a metaphor and a way of analyzing of how primitive this business can be, compared to physarum, I call it primitive for they "think" but they also act as an instinct.


I started some little experiments around December to analyze how physarum moves and see if it would give me what I want to achieve with this idea.

Dec 21, 2015

Dec 21, 2015

First Approach

I made some test from December 23rd, 2015 to January 5th, 2016. I left enough food for them to eat so I could see how they developed. Some of them grew mold and most of them grew very well. I disposed the ones that were contaminated and started other tests.

Dec 21, 2015

Jan 5, 2016

I kept some of the cultures I started to grow in December for the developed pretty good. I took pictures all the way through January to see their development. I change some things about their food which is explained in the drawings. I took decisions or a plan to follow, to see if I could work with them through the maps the way that I had been planning.

Subject #1

Subject #2 The culture had mold in the middle of it so I took it away and replaced it with oats. The progress is in the pictures.

Subject #3 The arrangement of the oats was in lines with physarum starting from each point, right and left. It also grew mold over the time left alone, I took it away and replaced it with new oats.This was its progress.

Subject #4

Subject #5 It was grew from a new, I took some physarum from the cultures I already had and started a new experiment.

The replacement of food works for physarum, once they have found food if you take it away they can perceive there is new food in other parts from the petri dish that they have already reach and they go to it. I still need to figure out if physarum will grow stronger in the place where they know they don't only have new oats but more oats. We are talking about quality, now I need to figure out if they follow the quantity.

It is better to work with them from one per one oat since they are not really responding to quantity on the first approach or the first time I put them in the petri dish and leave them to grow and find the connections needed.

The process to follow is to create a connection using only one or two oats and make the same experiments of taking away old oats and putting new oats in other locations where the connection has been made, where they already know there is food.

Second Approach

This second approach was similar to the previous ones. This time there were only going to be two subjects. The arrangement of the oats was like this one.

Patter FEB23 2016.png

Subject 01

With this subject oats were going to be removed from their previous place and some other points were going to be fed when needed. Not really following an agenda. The movements were made every two days approximately.

Observations: On day 2, after the first removal of an oat physarum remembered the place of the oat. In the days ahead physarum kept a bit ot itself into that exact same place where the oat was, as if it was waiting for it to come again.

Results: Physarum didn't really keep the connections between oats, it got desperate and went all over the petri dish looking for food. It didn't seem to do it in an organized way, it was spreading all over the petri dish in small amounts of it. It kept itself near the agar, probably because it needed nutrition and it broke all organized connections.

If physarum were drugs, it showed us that before getting rid of the drug problem things would spread all over the country. It would probably still stay near the cities with food (power) but because it would not be enough, it would create new points where to stay while waiting for the food to come and be enough for itself.

Subject 02

This subject was going to be fed all the time, no food was going to be removed but more and more oats would be placed. The movements were made every two days too approximately.

Observations: Physarum moved in a very organized way. It kept it's connections while looking for food, it went towards the points with more food but still keeping part of it in the points with less food.

Results: Physarum moved all over the petri dish looking for food, it even went to the lid. It remembered where the main food sources where and kept the first connections it made. What is very interesting is that it actually created more and different connections between the oats.

If we think these would be the movement of drug dealers it can represent them as organisms that are being attacked but at the same time find different paths to keep the business or their connection going on.

Both experiments seem to be interesting and right as metaphorical scenarios. If you attack the drug cartels they will spread all over the country to find new ways were to keep their trade going on. I would say the first one is what we would like to achieve in real life, even though the country would be covered by violence, when physarum ran out of options it would just start to rot. Physarum was less strong in S01, probably because it had less food sources and a less amount of oats. S02 has a perspective closer to reality, if you cut the food sources, drug dealers will find new paths to go to. Mexican people are very wit and smart when it comes to finding new solutions to problems that involve a good pay, in this case, drugs.

For the time lapse map I will follow the strategy of S02, it is more realistic and it would be better for physarum to have more food since it is going to be moving in a bigger environment.

Different color and light tests in petri dishes.


Arrangement and firsts tests.


After printing the Mexico 3D map the first time lapse test was made. The 3D Map was placed with agar inside a black container, a glass was used as a lid. Physarum was placed in strategic points near the oats.


This is the video showing the results.

Narco Cultivos Physarum Test08

Results: The time lapse was amazing but it started molding very easily, the glass was probably not a good idea, contamination from outside was coming in. Another test was going to be held, different agar, more oats (following the patter of the most important and violent cities involving drug trade). This time it was sealed with clay.


Results: Half of the test failed for a piece of paper from the time lapse setting fell into physarum, we decided to keep going but the test did not turn out as expected, Physarum did not touch two of the main oats, cities that are supposed to get drugs from Asia and South America. Another last test was run, different agar, the same amount of oats.

TEST 010

Results: Physarum created most of the possible connections between the oats and the cities. It worked really well though some of the oats started to get mold. The next step was to replace those oats and clean physarum a little bit. I removed the traces of physarum where it was first put for it looked too white, the idea was to keep the map cleaner.

TEST 010.1

Oats where placed in the next cities:

T010 MAR29.png