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Am J Physiol. 1991 Dec;261(6 Pt 1):L361-9.

Fractal geometry: a design principle for living organisms.

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Department of Anatomy, University of Berne, Switzerland.


Fractal geometry allows structures to be quantitatively characterized in geometric terms even if their form is not even or regular, because fractal geometry deals with the geometry of hierarchies and random processes. The hypothesis is explored that fractal geometry serves as a design principle in biological organisms. The internal membrane surface of cells, or the inner lung surface, are difficult to describe in terms of classical geometry, but they are found to show properties describable by fractal geometry, at least sectionwise and within certain bounds set by deterministic design properties. Concepts of fractal geometry are most useful in characterizing the structure of branching trees, such as those found in pulmonary airways and in blood vessels. This explains how the large internal gas exchange surface of the lung can be homogeneously and efficiently ventilated and perfused at low energetic cost. It is concluded that to consider fractal geometry as a biological design principle is heuristically most productive and provides insights into possibilities of efficient genetic programming of biological form.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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