From Experiment to Theory: What Can We Learn from Growth Curves?
Finding an appropriate functional form to describe population growth based on key properties of a described system allows making justified predictions about future population development. This information can be of vital importance in all areas of research, ranging from cell growth to global demography. Here, we use this connection between theory and observation to pose the following question: what can we infer about intrinsic properties of a population (i.e., degree of heterogeneity, or dependence on external resources) based on which growth function best fits its growth dynamics? We investigate several nonstandard classes of multi-phase growth curves that capture different stages of population growth; these models include hyperbolic–exponential, exponential–linear, exponential–linear–saturation growth patterns. The constructed models account explicitly for the process of natural selection within inhomogeneous populations. Based on the underlying hypotheses for each of the models, we identify whether the population that it best fits by a particular curve is more likely to be homogeneous or heterogeneous, grow in a density-dependent or frequency-dependent manner, and whether it depends on external resources during any or all stages of its development. We apply these predictions to cancer cell growth and demographic data obtained from the literature. Our theory, if confirmed, can provide an additional biomarker and a predictive tool to complement experimental research.
KeywordsPopulation heterogeneity Density-dependent model Frequency-dependent model Tumor growth Prospective and retrospective analysis Multi-phase growth
The authors would like to thank Dr. Senthil Kabilan for his invaluable help with parameter fitting, the anonymous reviewer and Dr. Micha Peleg for their thoughtful and valuable comments and suggestions. This research was partially supported by the Intramural Research Program of the NCBI, NIH (to GK).
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Conflict of interest
The authors declare no conflict of interest.
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