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Chemical Morphogenesis and Animal Patterning

Alan Turing’s contribution of chemical morphogenesis, the creation of form and shape during animal development, led him to propose a reaction-diffusion model as the basis of the development of patterns such as the spots and stripes seen in animal skin. By understanding the cellular mechanisms of morphogenesis, we are able to use the proposed model to examine the patterning of animals. For example, why do zebras always have black and white stripes? Here is the link to Turing’s introduction paper to morphogensis:

Turing’s mathematical model of chemical morphogenesis helps us understand why tigers and zebras have stripes. Turing’s Reaction-Diffusion model from 1952 consists on a set of equations which iteratively simulate the distribution of a chemical agent (activator) modulated by the presence of another agent called inhibitor. In his seminal 1952 paper, Alan Turing predicted that diffusion could spontaneously drive an initially uniform solution of reacting chemicals to develop stable spatially periodic concentration patterns. It is believed that such interactions take place in nature to form patterns which can be found in mammals and fish, and the first model, generating spots. Here’s is more information on the RD model, please refer to this link.

Many animals develop their coat patterns in stages. Typically, a secondary pattern will emerge as the animal transitions to adulthood. The following examples all use multiple stages:

Here is a website that explains morphogesis in more detail:


~Jen-Ling Nieh

Maximillian Israel

05 / 22 / 12



This is so interesting, I thought that Alan Turing’s work on morphogenesis consisted solely to explain the  development of an animals physical shape. I had no idea that morphogenesis also contributes to the color and pattern development of an animal.

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