West, G. B., W. H. Woodruff, and J. H. Brown

The fact that metabolic rate scales as the three-quarter power of body mass (M) in unicellular, as well as multicellular, organisms suggests that the same principles of biological design operate at multiple levels of organization. We use the framework of a general model of fractal-like distribution networks together with data on energy transformation in mammals to analyze and predict allometric scaling of aerobic metabolism over a remarkable 27 orders of magnitude in mass encompassing four levels of organization: individual organisms, single cells, intact mitochondria, and enzyme molecules. We show that, whereas rates of cellular metabolism in vivo scale as M-1/4, rates for cells in culture converge to a single predicted value for all mammals regardless of size. Furthermore, a single three-quarter power allometric scaling law characterizes the basal metabolic rates of isolated mammalian cells, mitochondria, and molecules of the respiratory complex; this overlaps with and is indistinguishable from the scaling relationship for unicellular organisms. This observation suggests that aerobic energy transformation at all levels of biological organization is limited by the transport of materials through hierarchical fractal-like networks with the properties specified by the model. We show how the mass of the smallest mammal can be calculated (approximate to1 g), and the observed numbers and densities of mitochondria and respiratory complexes in mammalian cells can be understood. Extending theoretical and empirical analyses of scaling to suborganismal levels potentially has important implications for cellular structure and function as well as for the metabolic basis of aging.