Dynamical quorum-sensing in oscillators coupled through an external medium

David J. Schwab, Ania Baetica, Pankaj Mehta*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


Many biological and physical systems exhibit population-density-dependent transitions to synchronized oscillations in a process often termed "dynamical quorum sensing". Synchronization frequently arises through chemical communication via signaling molecules distributed through an external medium. We study a simple theoretical model for dynamical quorum sensing: a heterogenous population of limit-cycle oscillators diffusively coupled through a common medium. We show that this model exhibits a rich phase diagram with four qualitatively distinct physical mechanisms that can lead to a loss of coherent population-level oscillations, including a novel mechanism arising from effective time-delays introduced by the external medium. We derive a single pair of analytic equations that allow us to calculate phase boundaries as a function of population density and show that the model reproduces many of the qualitative features of recent experiments on Belousov-Zhabotinsky catalytic particles as well as synthetically engineered bacteria.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1782-1788
Number of pages7
JournalPhysica D: Nonlinear Phenomena
Issue number21
StatePublished - Nov 1 2012


  • Kuramoto model
  • Quorum sensing
  • Synchronization
  • Synthetic biology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Statistical and Nonlinear Physics
  • Mathematical Physics
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Applied Mathematics


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