Can Math Explain How Animals Get Their Patterns?
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Can Math Explain How Animals Get Their Patterns?

November 17, 2019


Nature exhibits a seemingly endless array
of patterns – from the cow’s spots to the surgeonfish’s stripes to the cheetah’s
spots and stripes – but Alan Turing (the guy who invented computers) thought those
patterns might not actually be all that different. To show what he meant, he came up with a simple
set of mathematical rules that could give rise to all manner of patterns. The rules go something like this:
Inside each theoretical organism, there are two substances called an activator and an
inhibitor. The activator stimulates production of both
substances, while the inhibitor slows production down. In other words, it’s kind of like a predator-prey
relationship: the more activator bunnies there are, the more new bunnies they make, but a
bigger bunny population also means more food for the inhibitor foxes, which means more
foxes, which leads to fewer bunnies, which leads to fewer foxes.Except that Turing’s
rules say that, as the populations of predator and prey increase, their ranges expand – only,
the foxes need more room, so their range expands faster than the bunnies’ range. Soon, the foxes dominate the surrounding areas,
leaving the bunnies in the middle to keep multiplying. So what we end up with is a pool of activator
surrounded by a moat of inhibitor . And wherever the activator is more abundant than the inhibitor,
it triggers some kind of change – like the production of pigment – which, in this case,
gives rise to a spot of color. The beauty of Turing’s theory is that, by
adjusting the variables, like the spreading rate of the activator and inhibitor, or the
total area of the system, you can get all kinds of patterns. For example, if you start out with slightly
more activator than inhibitor in a bunch of spots, you might end up with…well, a bunch
of spots. Or, if the system is just a narrow little
strip – like a snake or a tail – you might end up with stripes. Or, if the activator spreads a little faster,
it might leak out and join up with other patches of escaping activator, creating a labyrinth
pattern. What’s more, Turing’s rules could be used
to simulate patterns that closely mimic the splotches on cows, the stripes on fish, the
mosaic patterns on giraffes, and even the tentacles on hydras. But the fact that his mathematical rules worked
on paper didn’t prove that nature followed them. And now, several decades later, scientists
are still trying to figure out whether some of the patterns and structures in nature arise
from real-life activators and inhibitors. On the one hand, we’ve found some patterns
that happen in a very un-Turing way, like the segments in a developing fruit fly, which
come predetermined by the fly’s genetic blueprint.. But on the other hand, we’ve also come across
some tantalizingly Turing-like systems; in developing mice, for example, a protein called
“sonic hedgehog” inhibits another, activator protein with a less awesome name, producing
stripey ridges on the roof of the embryo’s mouth. And in its nubby limb ends, three different
proteins activate and inhibit tissue growth to generate the stripe-like appendages known
as digits. But regardless of how perfectly or imperfectly
Turing’s theory describes what we see in the real world, the coolest thing about it
may be that it inspired biologists to go looking for evidence of Turing’s ideas in living
creatures. So observations inspired a theory that inspired
observations that are bringing us a little closer to understanding how the cheetah got
its spots – and its stripes. This video was supported by Audible, where
you can find the largest selection of audiobooks available anywhere, including “The Information,”
an awesome book by science writer James Gleick that explores how luminaries like Alan Turing
have helped us figure out what information even is, and how we can go about creating,
transmitting, and storing it. To download The Information or another book
of your choice, and show your support for MinuteEarth, go to www.audible.com/minuteearth. Oh – AND, a while ago we put out a survey
to find out about your personal experiences with asparagus pee, and we got tons of great
responses. Check out the link in the description below
for the results!

Only registered users can comment.

  1. Turing is MASSIVELY overrated.Neuman ( not Newman, lazy Americans) was WAY more important in British codebreaking efforts ,and a general cofounder of the modern world.

  2. 0:11 Alan Turing did not invent computers, he made advancements in programming algorithms. Credit should go to Ada Lovelace & Charles Babbage.

  3. Correction @MinuteEarth: Alan Turing didn't invent computers. He invented the turing machine – a theoretical way of computation. Computer in fact was invented by Charles Babbage. Link: https://www.google.co.in/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#q=who+invented+computer&*

  4. why does this place like pokemon because if they like pokemon so much then they should just make a video dedicated to pokemon :3

  5. I see the Pokemon references in your videos I have so many Pokemon cards hay minute Earth wanna trade?😆

  6. 2:42 On that subject, Japan scientists found a new protein and named it Pikachurin because of its compatability with electricity.

  7. Did you know that humans have these patterns as well, but we can't see them. There is a condition that exists that basically causes your body to be covered with so many freckles that it reveals said pattern. It's unique to each person too. Sometimes stripes, sometime splotches, and spots, or rings.

  8. I just think that different types of colours and patterns help the animals in camouflage either to catch prey or hide from hunters

  9. Hey the cheetah gets its spots and lines for camouflage
    It hunts its prey but it’s like the lion 🦁 it waits out in the
    Grass and it waits for the prey for example a Thompsons
    Gazelle it strikes when really close the cheetah pounces
    On the gazelle causing it to run and try to get it off then
    The cheetah use its teeth to rip the skin causing blood
    To spill out and the cheetah waits till it dies, did I mention
    It uses its claws to grab on the skin to grib? It does work
    But mostly the cheetah eats the gazelle but sometimes it
    Shakes off and it runs after it, If you knew the cheetah is
    The fastest land animal that’s amazing but it has less
    Stamina, Stamina is like energy and you get really
    Tired if you waste it all on doing like dumb stuff really,
    So if you didn’t know cheetahs have really long legs
    If I’m correct it has a another heart or organ, the
    Cheetah uses the long legs to jump run you
    Know how bunnies jump when the walk or Like that?
    The cheetah almost does the same. So pretty much
    In my opinion Thompson’s gazelle the the fastest
    Just bare with me I haven’t done my research.

  10. +MinuteEarth
    Humanity treated Alan Turing so badly. Our species owes him an apology that he'll never hear.

    So, while you all make your vapid comments about, "look at the bright animation", a genius and a damn war hero was, essentially, forced to take his own life.

    So, I am sorry Mr. Turing. I'm sincerely saddened that narrow mindedness and intolerance took away a man who single-handedly allowed me to discover my love of knowledge and learning. Computers allowed this poor kid from Philly to eventually get a PhD. And, I am infuriated that this same technology is used to spread the same bile and poison that drove him to take his own life. I don't mean any of this to sound bitter. But, Alan Turing deserved better than that.

    (Yes, I am aware that Alan Turing didn't invent the computer, full stop. I'm just simplifying for brevity.)

  11. For some reason at 0:12 i thought the binary going through the machine said something so i put it through a binary decoder and got
    Ô
    𝘛𝘣𝘩 𝘪 𝘥𝘪𝘥𝘯𝘵 𝘬𝘯𝘰𝘸 𝘸𝘩𝘢𝘵 𝘪 𝘦𝘹𝘱𝘦𝘤𝘵𝘦𝘥 𝘣𝘶𝘵 𝘩𝘦𝘺

  12. at 2:26 you talked about how patterns are pre-determinded, and how at 2:35 how mice have a similar "Actavor" and "inusulator" Relationship. What if some animals come pre determinded, and then some animals have "Actavor" and "inusulator" depending on what they need to adapt to??

  13. Minute Physics:
    Teaches The Unthinkable
    Also Minute Physics:
    Shows An Old Cow From Alan Turing's Time To Now Still Alive
    (Defying Life Expectancy O-O)

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