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Turing's Theory of Chemical Morphogenesis Validated 60 Years After His Death 74

cold fjord writes "Phys.org reports, "Alan Turing's accomplishments in computer science are well known, but lesser known is his impact on biology and chemistry. In his only paper on biology (PDF), Turing proposed a theory of morphogenesis, or how identical copies of a single cell differentiate, for example, into an organism with arms and legs, a head and tail. Now, 60 years after Turing's death, researchers from Brandeis University and the University of Pittsburgh have provided the first experimental evidence that validates Turing's theory in cell-like structures. The team published their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday, March 10.""
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Turing's Theory of Chemical Morphogenesis Validated 60 Years After His Death

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  • by xophos ( 517934 ) * on Wednesday March 12, 2014 @09:06AM (#46462673)

    Science should be readable by anyone.
    Don't advertise the profiteers.

    • by azav ( 469988 )

      Someone's got to pay to fund the research.

    • by interkin3tic ( 1469267 ) on Wednesday March 12, 2014 @10:50AM (#46463871)
      I agree that the papers should be open, but I disagree that not linking to the paywalled site is a good answer. Publishers of scientific journals don't get much money by individuals paying for papers. They get their money from universities and research institutions paying the toll. The paywall for individuals is just to keep forcing the universities paying. What you said is true for paywalls on general periodicals like wall street journal or new york times (if either still does that), since people actually might buy access to those articles. Not PNAS.

      Furthermore, the primary source is important obviously. Most of the time with slashdot articles, you get a link to some three paragraph blurb in science daily or Time, and the actual paper is not linked in that article. Meanwhile, there are questions here that can only be answered by details which are in the actual paper but aren't in the blurby news story. These questions could be answered by people who do have access, but without a link to the paywalled paper, such people are less likely to bother tracking it down.

      That criticism doesn't go for phys.org: they have the link to the actual paper at the bottom. Good on them.

      Again, publicly funded research should be open access, I'm not saying paywalls are good or justified.
    • PNAS has an option where the researcher uses $1,350 or $1,000 funds to make the research Open Access. The money to do this can be written into grants. Alternatively, the researchers can publish in another journal that is open access (again for a fee). So, blame the researcher, not the journal.
  • by wonkey_monkey ( 2592601 ) on Wednesday March 12, 2014 @09:07AM (#46462687) Homepage

    Is there nothing he couldn't do?

    • by DoofusOfDeath ( 636671 ) on Wednesday March 12, 2014 @09:11AM (#46462719)

      Is there nothing he couldn't do?


      (I kid, I kid.)

      • by Noryungi ( 70322 )

        Actually, he could not do women and candied apples.

        You should have seen his latest attempt.

        (Yes, I am kidding as well - I find it very sad that he was not able to do more in his life due to the stupid laws of his time).

        • I don't get it. What's the candied apples thing all about?

          • by Anonymous Coward

            Turing is widely regarded to have commited suicide by eating an arsenic-laced apple.

            • Re:On Turing (Score:4, Interesting)

              by TheCarp ( 96830 ) <sjc@carpanet.PERIODnet minus punct> on Wednesday March 12, 2014 @09:52AM (#46463139) Homepage

              No not arsenic, cyanide:

              On 8 June 1954, Turing's cleaner found him dead. He had died the previous day. A post-mortem examination established that the cause of death was cyanide poisoning. When his body was discovered, an apple lay half-eaten beside his bed, and although the apple was not tested for cyanide

              Although.... that isn't the whole story: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A... [wikipedia.org]

              There is some speculation that he may have inhaled cyanide accidentlly, (which would be proposterous unless he had say... was doing gold electroplating in his house....oh which he was. He also apparently was known to eat an apple before bed nightly.

              Now perhaps it was accidental, perhaps the whole gold plating thing was just to justify having cyanide around? Nobody is ever going to know.... but the poisioned apple makes for a nice story and adds a bit more mystery to the man than accidental inhalation of chemicals while trying to gold plate his silverware.

      • Is there nothing he couldn't do?


        (I kid, I kid.)

        Actually, he probably could but wasn't interested. No that I am done being pedantic (I'd say anal retentive but that would be too obvious in this discussion), imagine what he could have done but didn't because of how society treated him? What insights and ideas did we lose?

      • +1 Funny (oddly no more mod points after i started using beta)
    • Father a child?

      • by Megol ( 3135005 )
        Was he infertile?
        • He was gay, which is one obstacle.
          Then they castrated him for being gay.

          • Chemically, not surgically.

            • Implying that he could still father a child? I know he was chemically castrated, but did not think the method was relevant, was I wrong?

              • Implying that he could still father a child?

                Yes. He'd certainly find it a lot easier than if they'd cut his knackers off. Chemical castration reduces libido but does not, as far as I can ascertain, impair actual fertility. And it's reversible.

          • by Megol ( 3135005 )
            It's only recently homosexual avoid getting children. Not liking women sexually doesn't mean they can't get children and in the past not having children could make ones old age very poor. The same applies to heterosexuals of course, in the past it was common to be married and get children with people one didn't like or even hate for that is how it was.
            • Depends. A lot of cultures put homosexuals into Shamen/Preists roles. The entire driving evolutionary force behind homosexuality I believe is to have free, unattached, men who could help the community instead of just their own families.

              Yes, people without children were poor; Though I strongly disagree that they disliked each other, but homosexual males were meant to fill other societal roles.

    • by AGMW ( 594303 )
      Apparently, only women, but I think we long ago realised that wasn't a problem!
      • by AGMW ( 594303 )
        Ha ... my own fault for not refreshing the page before posting ... but if you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can ... oh forget it!
    • by osu-neko ( 2604 )

      Is there nothing he couldn't do?

      Withhold certain information while talking to cops.

  • Details? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by wisnoskij ( 1206448 ) on Wednesday March 12, 2014 @09:21AM (#46462783) Homepage

    Is this a huge find, will this make these scientists big names? Or was the reason it took so long to validate because no one really cared?

    Was this expected, has everyone assumed he was right for a long time, or was their a lot of controversy?

    • In order to save time and 30 replies, the answer is Yes and No to all of your questions. And at least three posts explaining why they were silly questions.

    • Coincidentally, I was reading Chapter 21 of Molecular Biology of the Cell by Alberts et al last night, which discusses some of the many experiments which have been done to demonstrate the effect. Intercellular chemical gradients involving counteracting exciters and inhibitors are only one of many effects that control differentiation, however. There are also:

      • - intracellular gradients leading to asymmetric cell division (e.g. the place where the sperm enters the egg creates a protein gradient across the e
  • by stenvar ( 2789879 ) on Wednesday March 12, 2014 @09:35AM (#46462865)

    Creating artificial chemical structures based on his theory, like this paper seems to do, is a neat additional gimmick, but that has been done many times before. Even if it were new, it wouldn't be little more than a simulation of his equations; what counts is whether biology behaves like he predicted.

    The real test of Turing's theory is whether it describes actual morphogenesis, and it has been shown to do that, many times over the years. That's the real "validation".

  • by invictusvoyd ( 3546069 ) on Wednesday March 12, 2014 @09:49AM (#46463097)
    We should give him the Turing award .
    • It's not uncommon for an eponymous award to be won by the person it's named after. In fact, they're often the first person to win it, if they're alive.

      Alas, if only that had been the case for Alan Turing.

      • With due respect of your views , I've spent some sarcasm towards the way in which this great genius of humanity was treated in his times . just and just for his sexual preference .. Imagine "chemically castrating" Elton john .. ( not that i'm a great fan of his music .. but ..)
        • Thanks for respecting my views. I certainly didn't mean any disrespect to yours -- in fact, I agree with them. Your original post was (rightly) modded funny. I was just adding some information.

  • by wombatmobile ( 623057 ) on Wednesday March 12, 2014 @10:09AM (#46463377)

    Turing's theory was formulated in an era when physics and chemistry were the foundation components of biology. The problem he was trying to solve is: How is biological complexity achieved in terms of fundamental chemistry and physics? At the time, chemistry could explain how two poisonous chemicals, sodium and chlorine, could combine to produce a substance as benign as common table sale (NaCl). But nothing could explain how a single cell could develop into something as complex as a fish, or a mouse, or a human being.

    In 1953, Crick and Watson published a paper in Nature that revealed the chemical structure of DNA. The discovery was a revolution in science because it changed biology from an amalgam of physics and chemistry into an information science. In DNA and RNA, a whole vocabulary of computing was encoded. Suddenly, the complexity of biological processes such as embryogenesis, heredity, and cancer could be understood in programmatic terms through the molecular language of DNA.

    Turing's theory of chemical morphogenesis doesn't mention DNA. As such, it is too simple to explain morphogenesis per se. Rather, his concept of intercellular reaction-diffusion may be applied to cell biology inter alia, but it isn't the big picture. Crick and Watson worked that out, thanks in no small part to Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Then again what the DNA and RNA actually perform is to encode chemicals which can trigger the reactions that Turing was describing in his paper. I agree with you that the discovery of this process was revolutionary (even more so once large scale decoding of DNA sequences started to happen), but ultimately it still is a chemical process which happens inside of cells.

      Various chemical receptors can also trigger certain DNA sequences to be enabled or suppressed to in turn create other organic molecules as enco

The human mind ordinarily operates at only ten percent of its capacity -- the rest is overhead for the operating system.