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Science 323 (5914): 614-617

Copyright © 2009 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science

Dynamical Quorum Sensing and Synchronization in Large Populations of Chemical Oscillators

Annette F. Taylor,1 Mark R. Tinsley,2 Fang Wang,2 Zhaoyang Huang,2 Kenneth Showalter2*

Abstract: Populations of certain unicellular organisms, such as suspensions of yeast in nutrient solutions, undergo transitions to coordinated activity with increasing cell density. The collective behavior is believed to arise through communication by chemical signaling via the extracellular solution. We studied large, heterogeneous populations of discrete chemical oscillators (~100,000) with well-defined kinetics to characterize two different types of density-dependent transitions to synchronized oscillatory behavior. For different chemical exchange rates between the oscillators and the surrounding solution, increasing oscillator density led to (i) the gradual synchronization of oscillatory activity, or (ii) the sudden "switching on" of synchronized oscillatory activity. We analyze the roles of oscillator density and exchange rate of signaling species in these transitions with a mathematical model of the interacting chemical oscillators.

1 School of Chemistry, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT, UK.
2 C. Eugene Bennett Department of Chemistry, West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV 26506, USA.

* To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: kshowalt{at}

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