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Halatek, J.; Frey, E. (2018): Rethinking pattern formation in reaction-diffusion systems. In: Nature Physics, Vol. 14, No. 5: pp. 507-514
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The present theoretical framework for the analysis of pattern formation in complex systems is mostly limited to the vicinity of fixed (global) equilibria. Here we present a new theoretical approach to characterize dynamical states arbitrarily far from (global) equilibrium. We show that reaction-diffusion systems that are driven by locally mass-conserving interactions can be understood in terms of local equilibria of diffusively coupled compartments. Diffusive coupling generically induces lateral redistribution of the globally conserved quantities, and the variable local amounts of these quantities determine the local equilibria in each compartment. We find that, even far from global equilibrium, the system is well characterized by its moving local equilibria. We apply this framework to in vitro Min protein pattern formation, a paradigmatic model for biological pattern formation. Within our framework we can predict and explain transitions between chemical turbulence and order arbitrarily far from global equilibrium. Our results reveal conceptually new principles of self-organized pattern formation that may well govern diverse dynamical systems.