Author(s): Ball P
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Abstract Alan Turing was neither a biologist nor a chemist, and yet the paper he published in 1952, 'The chemical basis of morphogenesis', on the spontaneous formation of patterns in systems undergoing reaction and diffusion of their ingredients has had a substantial impact on both fields, as well as in other areas as disparate as geomorphology and criminology. Motivated by the question of how a spherical embryo becomes a decidedly non-spherical organism such as a human being, Turing devised a mathematical model that explained how random fluctuations can drive the emergence of pattern and structure from initial uniformity. The spontaneous appearance of pattern and form in a system far away from its equilibrium state occurs in many types of natural process, and in some artificial ones too. It is often driven by very general mechanisms, of which Turing's model supplies one of the most versatile. For that reason, these patterns show striking similarities in systems that seem superficially to share nothing in common, such as the stripes of sand ripples and of pigmentation on a zebra skin. New examples of 'Turing patterns' in biology and beyond are still being discovered today. This commentary was written to celebrate the 350th anniversary of the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society.
This article was published in Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci
and referenced in Biological Systems: Open Access