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Sequential Establishment of Stripe Patterns in an Expanding Cell Population

Science, 14 October 2011
Vol. 334, Issue 6053, p. 238-241
DOI: 10.1126/science.1209042

Sequential Establishment of Stripe Patterns in an Expanding Cell Population

  1. Chenli Liu1,*,
  2. Xiongfei Fu2,*,
  3. Lizhong Liu1,
  4. Xiaojing Ren3,
  5. Carlos K.L. Chau1,
  6. Sihong Li2,
  7. Lu Xiang1,
  8. Hualing Zeng2,
  9. Guanhua Chen3,
  10. Lei-Han Tang4,
  11. Peter Lenz5,
  12. Xiaodong Cui2,
  13. Wei Huang1,2,,
  14. Terence Hwa6,,
  15. Jian-Dong Huang1,
  1. 1Department of Biochemistry, The University of Hong Kong, Pokfulam, Hong Kong, China.
  2. 2Department of Physics, The University of Hong Kong, Pokfulam, Hong Kong, China.
  3. 3Department of Chemistry, The University of Hong Kong, Pokfulam, Hong Kong, China.
  4. 4Department of Physics, Hong Kong Baptist University, Kowloon Tong, Kowloon, Hong Kong, China.
  5. 5Department of Physics and Center for Synthetic Microbiology, University of Marburg, 35032 Marburg, Germany.
  6. 6Center for Theoretical Biological Physics, University of California at San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92093–0374, USA.
  1. To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: jdhuang{at} (J.D.H.); hwa{at} (T.H.); huangwei{at} (W.H.)
  1. * These authors contributed equally to this work.


Periodic stripe patterns are ubiquitous in living organisms, yet the underlying developmental processes are complex and difficult to disentangle. We describe a synthetic genetic circuit that couples cell density and motility. This system enabled programmed Escherichia coli cells to form periodic stripes of high and low cell densities sequentially and autonomously. Theoretical and experimental analyses reveal that the spatial structure arises from a recurrent aggregation process at the front of the continuously expanding cell population. The number of stripes formed could be tuned by modulating the basal expression of a single gene. The results establish motility control as a simple route to establishing recurrent structures without requiring an extrinsic pacemaker.

  • Received for publication 31 May 2011.
  • Accepted for publication 2 September 2011.


C. Liu, X. Fu, L. Liu, X. Ren, C. K. Chau, S. Li, L. Xiang, H. Zeng, G. Chen, L.-H. Tang, P. Lenz, X. Cui, W. Huang, T. Hwa, and J.-D. Huang, Sequential Establishment of Stripe Patterns in an Expanding Cell Population. Science 334, 238-241 (2011).

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