COOL IMAGES: Virtual Green Thumb

Science  24 Dec 1999:
Vol. 286, Issue 5449, pp. 2423a
DOI: 10.1126/science.286.5449.2423a

Stripes on a seashell, the spindly fingers of a bacterial colony, a sunflower's petals: Such patterns are programmed by an organism's genes and elaborated by its environment. In 1952, computing pioneer Alan Turing first modeled how chemicals jostling around by diffusion might lead to mottled patterns, such as a leopard's spots. More recently, this horse chestnut tree took root in a computer that predicted the branching in the crown. (Taking a cue from nature, the computer assumed that branches in shade will not grow new ones, for example.) More images and movies of growth in action are featured at Visual Models of Morphogenesis, an online tutorial from computer scientist Przemyslaw Prusinkiewicz and his students at the University of Calgary in Canada. The team's specialty is software for Lindenmayer systems, a fractal-based model for plant growth used by everyone from botanists studying physiology to ecologists modeling how grazing shapes grasslands.

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