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Turing's next steps: the mechanochemical basis of morphogenesis

Nature Reviews Molecular Cell Biology volume 12, pages 392398 (2011) | Download Citation

Abstract

Nearly 60 years ago, Alan Turing showed theoretically how two chemical species, termed morphogens, diffusing and reacting with each other can generate spatial patterns. Diffusion plays a crucial part in transporting chemical signals through space to establish the length scale of the pattern. When coupled to chemical reactions, mechanical processes — forces and flows generated by motor proteins — can also define length scales and provide a mechanochemical basis for morphogenesis. forces and flows generated by motor proteins — can also define length scales and provide a mechanochemical basis for morphogenesis.

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Acknowledgements

We thank N. Goehring, M. Mayer and F. Jülicher for discussions, and I. Tolic-Norrelykke for comments on the manuscript.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Jonathon Howard and Stephan W. Grill are at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, Pfotenhauerstr. 108, 01307 Dresden, Germany.

    • Jonathon Howard
    •  & Stephan W. Grill
  2. Stephan W. Grill is also at the Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Complex Systems, Nöthnitzer Str. 38, 01187 Dresden, Germany.

    • Stephan W. Grill
  3. Justin S. Bois is at the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of California, Los Angeles, California 90095, USA.

    • Justin S. Bois

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Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Jonathon Howard or Stephan W. Grill or Justin S. Bois.

Glossary

Active diffusion

Random motion caused by randomly directed active forces, such as those generated by motor proteins.

Advection

Directed transport driven by motor proteins or bulk fluid flow.

Diffusion

The randomly directed motion of a molecule or particle that causes both mixing and the flux of particles from regions of high concentration to low concentration. Diffusion can be caused by thermal forces — that is, collisions with molecules in solution — or by randomly directed active forces, such as those generated by motor proteins that randomly change their direction.

Diffusion coefficient

The constant of proportionality between the flux and the concentration gradient for a diffusing particle. Diffusion can be thermal or active.

Friction coefficient

The constant or proportionality between a stress gradient and velocity.

Length constant

The distance over which a quantity such as concentration decreases e-fold.

Morphogens

Substances, such as proteins or small molecules, that are non-uniformly distributed in space and can influence cell growth or differentiation.

Patterning

The establishment of features that are much larger than those of the individual molecular components, and which are stereotyped from one cell to another or one organism to another.

Reaction–diffusion mechanism

A patterning process in which a diffusing morphogen undergoing chemical reactions (such as degradation or synthesis) forms a well-defined spatial distribution.

Stress

Force per unit area.

Viscoelastic material

A material that is both elastic (it can be stretched but returns to its original shape) and viscous (it deforms at a finite speed determined by the viscosity and the applied stress).

Viscosity

The constant of proportionality between rates of stress and strain (the relative deformation of a solid body due to a stress).

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nrm3120

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