The use of diffusion calculations and Monte Carlo simulations to understand the behavior of cells in Dictyostelium communities
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Microbial communities are the simplest possible model of multicellular tissues, allowing studies of cell-cell interactions to be done with as few extraneous factors as possible. For instance, the eukaryotic microbe Dictyostelium discoideum proliferates as single cells, and when starved, the cells aggregate together and form structures of ~20,000 cells. The cells use a variety of signals to direct their movement, inform each other of their local cell density and whether they are starving, and organize themselves into groups of ~20,000 cells. Mathematical models and computational approaches have been a key check on, and guide of, the experimental work. In this minireview, I will discuss diffusion calculations and Monte Carlo simulations that were used for Dictyostelium studies that offer general paradigms for several aspects of cell-cell communication. For instance, computational work showed that diffusible secreted cell-density sensing (quorum) factors can diffuse away so quickly from a single cell that the local concentration will not build up to incorrectly cause the cell to sense that it is in the presence of a high density of other cells secreting that signal. In another example, computation correctly predicted a mechanism that allows a group of cells to break up into subgroups. These are thus some examples of the power and necessity of computational work in biology.
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