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Tiny Trouble Spots Can Fix Complex Networks

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A representation of a complex network.

A new method of controlling networks could have "a transformative impact" on the field.


Northwestern University researchers have developed a method of controlling complex networks such as the Internet, power grids, and air transportation.

"A fundamental property of networks is that a perturbation to one node can affect other nodes, potentially causing the entire system to change behavior or fail," says research supervisor Adilson E. Motter. "We have turned this principle on its head for something positive: to control network behavior. This novel approach to control could have a transformative impact on the field of complex networks."

The researchers tested their method's success in containing failures in a power-grid network and identifying potential drug targets in a cancer biochemical signaling network. Previous network-control research has focused on linear models, but complex networks are nonlinear and the Northwestern team took this into account by recognizing that the size of a response is not usually proportional to the disturbance size.

The researchers created a computational method that identifies small perturbations that propagate throughout the network to achieve a desired end state. Applying the framework to treatment for a particular cancer, the researchers identified potential curative interventions by manipulating an average of only three genes or proteins.

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Abstracts Copyright © 2013 Information Inc., Bethesda, Maryland, USA


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