Natural Computing

, Volume 12, Issue 4, pp 517-535

First online:

A review of morphogenetic engineering

  • René DoursatAffiliated withSchool of Biomedical Engineering, Drexel University Email author 
  • , Hiroki SayamaAffiliated withCollective Dynamics of Complex Systems Research Group, Binghamton University, SUNY
  • , Olivier MichelAffiliated withFaculté des Sciences et Technologie, Université de Créteil

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Generally, phenomena of spontaneous pattern formation are random and repetitive, whereas elaborate devices are the deterministic product of human design. Yet, biological organisms and collective insect constructions are exceptional examples of complex systems (CS) that are both architectured and self-organized. Can we understand their precise self-formation capabilities and integrate them with technological planning? Can physical systems be endowed with information, or informational systems be embedded in physics, to create autonomous morphologies and functions? To answer these questions, we have launched in 2009, and developed through a series of workshops and a collective book, a new field of research called morphogenetic engineering. It is the first initiative of its kind to rally and promote models and implementations of complex self-architecturing systems. Particular emphasis is set on the programmability and computational abilities of self-organization, properties that are often underappreciated in CS science—while, conversely, the benefits of self-organization are often underappreciated in engineering methodologies. [This paper is an extended version of Doursat, Sayama and Michel (2012b) (Chapter 1, in Doursat R et al. (eds.) Morphogenetic engineering: toward programmable complex systems. Understanding complex systems. Springer, 2012a).]


Agent-based modeling Artificial life Collective construction Complex systems Evolutionary development Generative grammars Morphogenesis Self-organization Swarm robotics Systems engineering