Self-organization of cells into higher-order structures is key for multicellular organisms, for example via repetitive replication of template-like founder cells or syncytial energids. Yet, very similar spatial arrangements of cell-like compartments (‘protocells’) are also seen in a minimal model system of Xenopus egg extracts in the absence of template structures and chromatin, with dynamic microtubule assemblies driving the self-organization process. Quantifying geometrical features over time, we show here that protocell patterns are highly organized with a spatial arrangement and coarsening dynamics similar to that of two-dimensional foams but without the long-range ordering expected for hexagonal patterns. These features remain invariant when enforcing smaller protocells by adding taxol, i.e. patterns are dominated by a single, microtubule-derived length scale. Comparing our data to generic models, we conclude that protocell patterns emerge by simultaneous formation of randomly assembling protocells that grow at a uniform rate towards a frustrated arrangement before fusion of adjacent protocells eventually drives coarsening. The similarity of protocell patterns to arrays of energids and cells in developing organisms, but also to epithelial monolayers, suggests generic mechanical cues to drive self-organized space compartmentalization.

You do not currently have access to this content.