Alan Turing’s research in the latter part of his life focused, among other things, on morphogensis – particularly of animal pattern formation. According to a King’s College London press release, Turing “put forward the idea that regular repeating patterns in biological systems are generated by a pair of morphogens that work together as an ‘activator’ and ‘inhibitor’”. Now researchers at Kings have provided experimental evidence to confirm this theory. This study:
not only demonstrates a mechanism which is likely to be widely relevant in vertebrate development, but also provides confidence that chemicals called morphogens, which control these patterns, can be used in regenerative medicine to differentiate stem cells into tissue.
The press release quotes Dr Jeremy Green from the Department of Craniofacial Development at King’s Dental Institute saying:
“Regularly spaced structures, from vertebrae and hair follicles to the stripes on a tiger or zebrafish, are a fundamental motif in biology. There are several theories about how patterns in nature are formed, but until now there was only circumstantial evidence for Turing’s mechanism. Our study provides the first experimental identification of an activator-inhibitor system at work in the generation of stripes – in this case, in the ridges of the mouth palate.
“Although important in feeling and tasting food, ridges in the mouth are not of great medical significance. However, they have proven extremely valuable here in validating an old theory of the activator-inhibitor model first put forward by Alan Turing in the 50s.
“Not only does this show us how patterns such as stripes are formed, but it provides confidence that these morphogens (chemicals) can be used in future regenerative medicine to regenerate structure and pattern when differentiating stem cells into other tissues.”