Self-organization refers to the emergence of an overall order in time and space of a given system that results from the collective interactions of its individual components.

This concept has been widely recognized as a core principle in pattern formation for multi-component systems of the physical, chemical and biological world. It can be distinguished from self-assembly by the constant input of energy required to maintain order-and self-organization therefore typically occurs in non-equilibrium or dissipative systems.

Cells, with their constant energy consumption and myriads of local interactions between distinct proteins, lipids, carbohydrates and nucleic acids, represent the perfect playground for self-organization.

It therefore comes as no surprise that many properties and features of self-organized systems, such as spontaneous formation of patterns, nonlinear coupling of reactions, bi-stable switches, waves and oscillations, are found in all aspects of modern cell biology.

Ultimately, self-organization lies at the heart of the robustness and adaptability found in cellular and organismal organization, and hence constitutes a fundamental basis for natural selection and evolution.This article is part of the theme issue 'Self-organization in cell biology'.

Self-organization: the fundament of cell biology.

Wedlich-Söldner R, Betz T.

Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2018 May 26;373(1747). pii: 20170103. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2017.0103.