Turing’s Patterns in Nature

The “Wired Science” blog at the Wired site has an interesting small slideshow of images related to the mathematician Alan Turing’s only paper on biology.  The paper, “The Chemical Basis of Morphogenesis” [PDF], was published in 1952, in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. Series B, and shows how patterns, such as spots, stripes, and spirals, can be generated from a uniform initial state by a reduction-diffusion process.  As Turing was careful to say (from the abstract), the paper did not propose any new biological mechanisms, but suggested how the process of development might account for the variety seen in nature.

The purpose of this paper is to discuss a possible mechanism by which the genes of a zygote may determine the anatomical structure of the resulting organism. The theory does not make any new hypotheses; it merely suggests that certain well-known physical laws are sufficient to account for many of the facts.

Although I have read a good deal of Turing”s work in computer science (as we now call it), I had not run across this paper before.  It is a great example of the originality of Turing’s work.


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