Anthony Vecchiarelli, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Molecular Cellular and Developmental Biology, University of Michigan
Bacteria reproduce by dividing in half. But how do they know where the middle is? Interestingly, one protein, MinE, chases another, MinD, back and forth across the bacterium, in a constant “catch and release” dance. This centers the cell division machinery, insuring that both “daughter bacteria” are the same size. This image shows how the purified proteins can self-organize on a membrane coated microscope slide, obeying what we call a Turing pattern. Alan Turing, a brilliant British mathematician who broke the Enigma code to end WWII (featured in the movie, The Imitation Game) is our super-hero when it comes to self-organization. Fascinated with patterns, Turing was the first to propose a “reaction-diffusion” model that explains how molecular interactions can create the regularly repeating patterns seen in nature (zebra stripes, leopard spots). Widely admired now, Turing was not a hero in his own time. As a gay man at a time that it was illegal to be gay, he was chemically castrated, shunned and eventually committed suicide.