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Science 336 (6078): 175-179

Copyright © 2012 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science

Cell Polarity: Quantitative Modeling as a Tool in Cell Biology

Alex Mogilner,1,* Jun Allard,1 Roy Wollman2

Abstract: Among a number of innovative approaches that have modernized cell biology, modeling has a prominent yet unusual place. One popular view is that we progress linearly, from conceptual to ever more detailed models. We review recent discoveries of cell polarity mechanisms, in which modeling played an important role, to demonstrate that the experiment-theory feedback loop requires diverse models characterized by varying levels of biological detail and mathematical complexity. We argue that a quantitative model is a tool that has to fit an experimental study, and the model’s value should be judged not by how complex and detailed it is, but by what could be learned from it.

1 Department of Neurobiology, Physiology, and Behavior and Department of Mathematics, University of California, Davis, CA 95616, USA.
2 Department of Chemical and Systems Biology, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305, USA.

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

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