Towards a unifying theory of growth from cells and ontogeny to populations and tumors

18 March 2005

Geoffrey West
Distinguished Professor
Santa Fe Institute

Also of interest

Geoff will be giving a talk in the Cannon Room on Thursday 17 March at 2pm on "Universal scaling laws in biology from genomes to ecosystems: towards a unified quantitative theory of biological structure and organization". This will provide some background for his theory lunch talk but the two talks are meant to be independent.


A general quantitative theory that unifies the characteristics of growth at all scales from cells, organisms and tumors to populations will be presented. It is based on nutrient supply and demand through hierarchical networks that allocate metabolic energy between maintenance of existing tissue (or sub-cellular components) and the production of new biomass. Growth curves are derived whose parameters (including asymptotic masses) are predicted from basic cellular (or sub-cellular) properties. It will be shown how, when appropriately rescaled, a single parameterless universal growth curve describes ontogenetic growth of many diverse species and how population growth rates are approximately the same from prokaryotes to mammals. Similarly, the theory relates tumor vascularization and growth to metabolism and yields predictions for a wide range of tumor characteristics including growth rates, network properties such as blood flow rates and vessel sizes, the scaling of time to first symptom, time to death, final tumor size, the proportion of necrotic tissue, and the dependences on host mass.


G. B. West, J. H. Brown and B. J. Enquist, "A general model for the origin of allometric scaling laws in biology", Science 276:122-6 1997. PubMed. PDF

G. B. West, J. H. Brown and B. J. Enquist, "A general model for ontogenetic growth", Nature 413:628-31 2001. PubMed

G. B. West and J. H. Brown, "Life's universal scaling laws", Physics Today 57:36 2004.

current theory lunch schedule