During vertebrate development cells acquire different fates depending largely on their location in the embryo. The definition of a cell's developmental fate relies on extensive intercellular communication that produces positional information and ultimately generates an appropriately proportioned anatomy. Here we place reaction-diffusion mechanisms in the context of general concepts regarding the generation of positional information during development and then focus on these mechanisms as parsimonious systems for positioning anatomical structures relative to one another. In particular, we discuss the evidence for reaction-diffusion systems operating in the developing skin to yield the periodic arrangements of hairs and feathers and discuss how best to bring together experimental molecular biology and numerical simulations to yield a more complete understanding of the mechanisms of development and natural variation.
- pattern formation