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Understanding the mechanisms governing and regulating the emergence of structure and heterogeneity within cellular systems, such as the developing embryo, represents a multiscale challenge typifying current integrative biology research, namely, explaining the macroscale behaviour of a system from microscale dynamics. This review will focus upon modelling how cell-based dynamics orchestrate the emergence of higher level structure. After surveying representative biological examples and the models used to describe them, we will assess how developments at the scale of molecular biology have impacted on current theoretical frameworks, and the new modelling opportunities that are emerging as a result. We shall restrict our survey of mathematical approaches to partial differential equations and the tools required for their analysis. We will discuss the gap between the modelling abstraction and biological reality, the challenges this presents and highlight some open problems in the field. © 2008 IOP Publishing Ltd and London Mathematical Society.

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