Stochastic Emergence of Groupthink

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Science  21 May 2010:
Vol. 328, Issue 5981, pp. 987-988
DOI: 10.1126/science.1190372

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Oscillations are found at nearly every level of biology. From the dynamic instability of cytoskeletal elements in an individual cell to the circadian rhythms that regulate a multitude of operations at the organismal level, it is clear that periodicity is an essential characteristic of living systems. On page 1021 of this issue, Gregor et al. (1) describe how cell aggregation and development of the amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum is guided by emergent rhythmic behavior arising from the stochastic pulsing of individual cells with a chemical cue. By combining experimental and computational approaches, the authors present the exciting story of the dynamical onset of collective behavior in this organism. The findings raise the question of whether biology uses oscillations to solve problems typically assumed to have static or unidirectional solutions.