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Spatial structures in microtubular solutions requiring a sustained energy source


MICROTUBULES are believed to be the principal organizers of the cell interior1. Cells respond to a variety of stimuli by modifying the spatial distribution of the microtubules. These effects are central to cell division and morphogenesis2, and embryo development3. During embryo development, macroscopic patterns are frequently observed3. Here we report that microtubular solutions spontaneously form alternating white and dark stripes about 1 mm wide and 1 cm long. Small-angle neutron scattering measurements show that in each segment the microtubules are aligned obliquely to the direction of the stripe, and that the white and dark stripes differ in having mutually orthogonal orientations. The formation of these structures requires an initial reservoir of organic phosphate. Phosphorus NMR measurements show that the process is accompanied by the energy-liberating conversion of organic to inorganic phosphate. These observations, together with similarities to the dissipative spatial structure formed by the Belousov–Zhabotinski reaction4–6, provide strong evidence that the observed structures are energy-dissipative in nature. Dissipative structures are thought to be critical to the appearence of complex living organisms7,8. Our results strongly suggest that microtubules are capable of forming such structures. Microtubular dissipative structures may occur during mitosis and embryo morphogenesis.

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Tabony, J., Job, D. Spatial structures in microtubular solutions requiring a sustained energy source. Nature 346, 448–451 (1990).

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