On 15 July 2019, the Governor of the Bank of England announced that English mathematician, computer scientist and cryptanalyst Alan Turing will be the new face of the £50 note.
We are delighted by the recognition of Turing’s life and work. He was instrumental to the development of theoretical computer science, and his mathematical model of an abstract machine that manipulates symbols on a strip of tape according to a table of rules — the so-called ‘Turing machine’ — can be considered an archetype of a general-purpose computer. During World War II, Turing played a pivotal role in breaking the German Enigma ciphers, a scientific triumph that was critical to the Allied victory.
Perhaps less widely known is Turing’s interest in mathematical biology, although his work on the development of patterns and shapes in nature is considered seminal. In his article “The Chemical Basis of Morphogenesis,” published in 1952, he suggested that a system of chemicals reacting with each other and diffusing across space, called a ‘reaction-diffusion system’, could account for “the main phenomena of morphogenesis.” Although at times controversial, especially among experimental biologists, and not applicable to every system, it has served as a key model in theoretical biology.
The mechanisms underlying organization in biological systems that so fascinated Turing are also a topic of interest to us at Nature Structural & Molecular Biology. Progress in structural biology has allowed the capture of ever-sharper snapshots of proteins, nucleic acids and complexes thereof, but the full picture of how those molecules act in the cell and how they influence higher-order tissue organization is still blurry. How are molecules organized within the cell, and how did they achieve such organization? How is diversity generated from uniform systems, both on the cellular level and the organismal level? How do biological systems respond to environmental signals?
With the advent of single-cell sequencing and imaging technologies, the principles behind the mechanisms of biological organization can now be addressed and understood at new depths. The development of fluorescent probes for tagging multiple proteins or sensors for the detection of specific enzymatic activities in live cells is a welcome addition to the cell biologist’s tool belt. We are excited that the community is now poised to explore those long-standing questions and work toward closing the ‘mesoscale gap’, which will require the integration of multiple approaches and multidisciplinary collaboration. We look forward to seeing those studies come to light, in our pages and elsewhere.
About this article
Cite this article
Watching the daisies grow. Nat Struct Mol Biol 26, 659 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41594-019-0281-3