An Experimental Design Method Leading to Chemical Turing Patterns

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Science  08 May 2009:
Vol. 324, Issue 5928, pp. 772-775
DOI: 10.1126/science.1169973

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Adding a Turing Pattern Reaction

Two chemical-reaction systems can form sustained stationary patterns (Turing patterns) in solution as the result of the movement of a diffusible species and the formation of negative feedback loops—the chlorite-iodide–malonic acid reaction and the ferrocyanide-iodate-sulfite reaction. Horváth et al. (p. 772) set out to find other examples based on three criteria—that the reaction can develop spatial bistability, that independent control of the negative feedback reaction can be achieved, and the activating and inhibiting processes can be decoupled by slowing down the diffusing species with a complexing agent. The thiourea-iodate-sulfite (TuIS) reaction could be developed into a system that produced different stationary patterns, including stripes and hexagonal arrays of spots. Thus, such Turing pattern–generating reactions are not necessarily uncommon.


Chemical reaction-diffusion patterns often serve as prototypes for pattern formation in living systems, but only two isothermal single-phase reaction systems have produced sustained stationary reaction-diffusion patterns so far. We designed an experimental method to search for additional systems on the basis of three steps: (i) generate spatial bistability by operating autoactivated reactions in open spatial reactors; (ii) use an independent negative-feedback species to produce spatiotemporal oscillations; and (iii) induce a space-scale separation of the activatory and inhibitory processes with a low-mobility complexing agent. We successfully applied this method to a hydrogen-ion autoactivated reaction, the thiourea-iodate-sulfite (TuIS) reaction, and noticeably produced stationary hexagonal arrays of spots and parallel stripes of pH patterns attributed to a Turing bifurcation. This method could be extended to biochemical reactions.

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