Whether right or for wrong, the human brain is often compared to a computer, and vice-versa. They both receive data, process it, store it, and output new data. Unlike computers, however, the human brain doesn’t crash. Yes, people have nervous breakdowns, but that has more to do with psychological stress than with data management. Now, researchers from Yale University have figured out why our brains succeed where computers fail.

The research team compared the genome of E coli bacteria with the Linux operating system. Both of the control networks, it turns out, are arranged in hierarchies. In E coli, the molecular networks are arranged in a pyramid. A limited number of master regulatory genes sit at the top, controlling a wide range of specialized functions beneath them.

By contrast, Linux is more like an inverted pyramid - numerous routines are at the top, controlling a few generic functions at the bottom. This is because software engineers save time and money by building on existing routines, instead of starting systems from scratch. Such an approach makes the system vulnerable to breakdowns, however, as even simple changes to a generic routine can be very disruptive. To minimize problems, the generic components need to be continually fine-tuned by software designers.

The Yale scientists noted that in a living organism, generic components that need to be constantly updated would not be a good survival trait. Instead, over billions of years of evolution, the E coli bacteria has evolved many highly specialized modules. Together, these modules are ready to handle most eventualities, resulting in a much more robust network.