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A mathematical theory proposed by Alan Turing in 1952 can explain the formation of fingers
Date:7/31/2014

Alan Turing, the British mathematician (1912-1954), is famous for a number of breakthroughs, which altered the course of the 20th century. In 1936 he published a paper, which laid the foundation of computer science, providing the first formal concept of a computer algorithm. He next played a pivotal role in the Second World War, designing the machines which cracked the German military codes, enabling the Allies to defeat the Nazis in several crucial battles. And in the late 1940's he turned his attention to artificial intelligence and proposed a challenge, now called the Turing test, which is still important to the field today.

His contribution to mathematical biology is less famous, but was no less profound. He published just one paper (1952), but it triggered a whole new field of mathematical enquiry into pattern formation. He discovered that a system with just 2 molecules could, at least in theory, create spotty or stripy patterns if they diffused and chemically interacted in just the right way.

His mathematical equations showed that starting from uniform condition (ie. a homogeneous distribution no pattern) they could spontaneously self-organise their concentrations into a repetitive spatial pattern. This theory has come to be accepted as an explanation of fairly simple patterns such as zebra stripes and even the ridges on sand dunes, but in embryology it has been resisted for decades as an explanation of how structures such as fingers are formed.

Now a group of researchers from the Multicellular Systems Biology lab at the CRG, led by ICREA Research Professor James Sharpe, has provided the long sought-for data which confirms that the fingers and toes are patterned by a Turing mechanism. "It complements their recent paper (Science 338:1476, 2012), which provided evidence that Hox genes and FGF signaling modulated a hypothetical Turing system. However, at that point the Turing molecules themselves were still not identified,
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Contact: Juan Manuel Sarasua
juan.sarasua@crg.eu
34-934-160-159
Center for Genomic Regulation
Source:Eurekalert  

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