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Organogenesis. 2010 Apr-Jun;6(2):88-96.

Scaling properties of cell and organelle size.

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Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, CA, USA.


How size is controlled is a fundamental question in biology. In this review, we discuss the use of scaling relationships-for example, power-laws of the form y∝x(α)-to provide a framework for comparison and interpretation of size measurements. Such analysis can illustrate the biological and physical principles underlying observed trends, as has been proposed for the allometric dependence of metabolic rate or limb structure on organism mass. Techniques for measuring size at smaller length-scales continue to improve, leading to more data on the control of size in cells and organelles. Size scaling of these structures is expected to influence growth patterns, functional capacity and intracellular transport. Furthermore, organelles such as the nucleus, mitochondria and endoplasmic reticulum show widely varying morphologies that affect their scaling properties. We provide brief summaries of these issues for individual organelles, and conclude with a discussion on how to apply this concept to better understand the mechanisms of size control in the cellular environment.


allometry; cell; organelle; power law; scaling relationships; size control

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