A Genius Earns His Stripes Yet Again
Alan Turing is among the few figures of modern science for whom the term ‘genius’ is not an overstatement. He played a key role in breaking the German Enigma code during World War II, he is one of the key figures in the foundation of computer science, and towards the end of his short life (he committed suicide in the UK after being sentenced to chemical castration for homosexuality in 1954), he turned his attention towards biology. The question that caught his attention relates to how cells differentiate and patterns form in animals.
His answer relied on a mathematical formulation of the effect of two different chemicals termed ‘morphogens’ reacting with each other to form regular repeating patterns. While theoretical simulations have confirmed Turing’s elegant idea, it is only now in Turing’s centenary year that researchers from King’s College London (in a study to be published in Nature Genetics), have managed to provide experimental confirmation.
According to a press release, ‘To test the theory the researchers studied the development of the regularly spaced ridges found in the roof of the mouth in mice. Carrying out experiments in mouse embryos, the team identified the pair of morphogens working together to influence where each ridge will be formed. These chemicals controlled each other’s expression, activating and inhibiting production and therefore controlling the generation of the ridge pattern.’
‘The researchers were able to identify the specific morphogens involved in this process. They showed that when these morphogens’ activity is increased or decreased, the pattern of the ridges in the mouth palate is affected in ways predicted by Turing’s equations.’
According to one of the researchers, ‘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.’