InterJournal Complex Systems, 146
Status: Accepted
Manuscript Number: [146]
Submission Date: 971121
Biological design principles that guide self-organization, emergence, and hierarchical assembly: from complexity to tensegrity
Author(s): Donald Ingber

Subject(s): CX.30, CX.31, CX.35

Category: Brief Article


A living organism represents the ultimate complex adaptive system. Our work focuses on the question of how groups of molecules self-organize to create living cells and tissues with emergent properties, such as the ability to change shape, move, and grow. Most complexity-based approaches focus on nodes, connections, and resultant pattern formation. We have extended this approach by taking into account the importance of architecture, mechanics and structure in the evolution of biological form. This work has led to the discovery of fundamental design principles that guide self-assembly in natural systems, from the simplest inorganic compounds to the most complex living cells and tissues. These building rules are based on the use of a particular form of geodesic architecture, known as tensegrity, which causes hierarchical collections of different interacting components to self-organize and mechanically stabilize in three dimensions. Shape and pattern stability emerge through establishment of a force balance between globally acting attractive (tensile) forces and locally acting repulsive (compressive) forces or, in simplest terms, through continuous tension and local compression (tensional integrity or "tensegrity"). Recent development of a mathematical explanation for the mechanical behavior of living cells and tissues based on tensegrity may provide a useful computational tool for analysis in other complex adaptive systems ranging from protein folding to cosmology.

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