© 2004, National Academy of Sciences

Biological patterns often develop in a mathematically predictable way. Fifty years ago Alan Turing invoked differential equations describing the interaction of an activator molecule and its inhibitor, a so-called reaction diffusion mechanism, to describe biological pattern formation. "People have suggested the model but without having any strong experimental evidence to back it up," says mathematical biologist Kevin Painter at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, Scotland.

Recently researchers at the University of California School of Medicine, Los Angeles, identified and tested an activator-inhibitor system governing the self-organization of adult vascular mesenchymal cells into predictable patterns. "It's the first disease-related, embryologically significant process that's been identified to occur by reaction diffusion," says coauthor Linda Demer. Bone morphogenetic protein-2 (BMP-2), a molecule known to induce cell aggregation and mineralization, serves as the activator, and it is inhibited by matrix carboxyglutamic acid protein (MGP). The group developed a Turing model...

Interested in reading more?

Magaizne Cover

Become a Member of

Receive full access to digital editions of The Scientist, as well as TS Digest, feature stories, more than 35 years of archives, and much more!
Already a member?