Self-Organization and Genomic Causality in Models of Morphogenesis

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2 Scopus citations


The debate about what causes the generation of form and structure in embryological development goes back to antiquity. Most recently, it has focused on the divergent views as to whether the generation of patterns and form in development is a largely self-organized process or is mainly determined by the genome, in particular, complex developmental gene regulatory processes. This paper presents and analyzes pertinent models of pattern formation and form generation in a developing organism in the past and the present, with a special emphasis on Alan Turing’s 1952 reaction–diffusion model. I first draw attention to the fact that Turing’s paper remained, at first, without a noticeable impact on the community of biologists because purely physical–chemical models were unable to explain embryological development and often also simple repetitive patterns. I then show that from the year 2000 and onwards, Turing’s 1952 paper was increasingly cited also by biologists. The model was updated to include gene products and now seemed able to account for the generation of biological patterns, though discrepancies between models and biological reality remained. I then point out Eric Davidson’s successful theory of early embryogenesis based on gene-regulatory network analysis and its mathematical modeling that not only was able to provide a mechanistic and causal explanation for gene regulatory events controlling developmental cell fate specification but, unlike reaction–diffusion models, also addressed the effects of evolution and organisms’ longstanding developmental and species stability. The paper concludes with an outlook on further developments of the gene regulatory network model.

Original languageEnglish
Article number873
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1 Jun 2023


  • Alan Turing
  • Eric Davidson
  • developmental gene regulatory networks
  • pattern formation
  • reaction–diffusion models in morphogenesis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Information Systems
  • General Physics and Astronomy
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering
  • Mathematical Physics
  • Physics and Astronomy (miscellaneous)


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