28 January 2014
Most of our internal organs – including our liver, lungs, kidneys and blood vessels – are made up of branching networks of tubes. But while some researchers are studying the growth of this delicate plumbing in animals in the lab, such as mice, others are turning to virtual models ‘grown’ in the computer. Like many other structures in nature, the branching pipework of the lungs is built according to mathematical rules. And if there are rules, then it should be possible to recreate the process with a computer programme. Pictured is a computer-generated model of a growing lung tube at three different stages, with the red blobs representing high levels of a molecular ‘signal’ that tells a branch to sprout. This tube is growing fast, creating waves of signal blobs that will give rise to many branches, creating the tree-like structure of the lungs.
Written by Kat Arney
Image courtesy of Denis Menshykau, Conradin Kraemer and Dagmar Iber
Department for Biosystems Science and Engineering, ETH Zurich
Originally published under a Creative Commons Attribution Licence
Research published in PLOS Computational Biology, February 2012