Dynamical Quorum Sensing and Synchronization in Large Populations of Chemical Oscillators

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Science  30 Jan 2009:
Vol. 323, Issue 5914, pp. 614-617
DOI: 10.1126/science.1166253

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Populations of certain unicellular organisms, such as suspensions of yeast in nutrient solutions, undergo transitions to coordinated activity with increasing cell density. The collective behavior is believed to arise through communication by chemical signaling via the extracellular solution. We studied large, heterogeneous populations of discrete chemical oscillators (∼100,000) with well-defined kinetics to characterize two different types of density-dependent transitions to synchronized oscillatory behavior. For different chemical exchange rates between the oscillators and the surrounding solution, increasing oscillator density led to (i) the gradual synchronization of oscillatory activity, or (ii) the sudden “switching on” of synchronized oscillatory activity. We analyze the roles of oscillator density and exchange rate of signaling species in these transitions with a mathematical model of the interacting chemical oscillators.

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