The coordinated development of multicellular organisms is driven by intercellular communication. Differentiation into diverse cell types is usually associated with the existence of distinct attractors of gene regulatory networks, but how these attractors emerge from cell–cell coupling is still an open question. In order to understand and characterize the mechanisms through which coexisting attractors arise in multicellular systems, here we systematically investigate the dynamical behavior of a population of synthetic genetic oscillators coupled by chemical means. Using bifurcation analysis and numerical simulations, we identify various attractors and attempt to deduce from these findings a way to predict the organized collective behavior of growing populations. Our results show that dynamical clustering is a generic property of multicellular systems. We argue that such clustering might provide a basis for functional differentiation and variability in biological systems.
- multicellular systems
- collective behavior
- inhibitory cell-to-cell communication
- cellular differentiation