Cell sociology and the problem of automation in the development of pluricellular animals

Acta Biotheoretica 29 (1) (1980)
Abstract
The principles of automation (automatism and programming) in the unfolding of spatio-temporal patterns during animal development are deduced from experimental data reconsidered from the point of view of cell sociology. The developmental programme in the egg is not part of the genetic information but a part of the cytoplasmic information. Throughout development cells store extra-cellular information released by their neighbours in the form of cytoplasmic information. Successive determinations cannot be considered as successive reprogrammings of cells: each one consists of a selection of one specific programme from the total information previously stored. This programme specifies cell interactions in the determined population as a whole; it is very imprecise and is progressively completed during the course of further differentiation by information released by neighbouring cell populations. Complicated patterns may emerge from only two homogeneous populations involved in distinct differentiation pathways and confronting each other. Consequently the egg developmental programme provides gene effectors and specific physico-chemical conditions necessary for the starting of at least two distinct differentation pathways. Experimental data suggest that there are two components in this programme. One is a molecular machinery which starts at fertilization in the whole cytoplasm. It yields two programmes of differentiation, typically first an endodermal and then an ectodermal one. The other component of the egg developmental programme, which does not require specific information, allows the interception of the first (endodermal) programme. The application of informatics to developmental automatism is discussed in the latter part of the paper.
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