Quantitative models for building and growing fated small cell networks.
Small cell clusters exhibit numerous phenomena typically associated with complex systems, such as division of labour and programmed cell death. A conserved class of such clusters occurs during oogenesis in the form of germline cysts that give rise to oocytes. Germline cysts form through cell divisions with incomplete cytokinesis, leaving cells intimately connected through intercellular bridges that facilitate cyst generation, cell fate determination and collective growth dynamics. Using the well-characterized female germline cyst as a foundation, we present mathematical models rooted in the dynamics of cell cycle proteins and their interactions to explain the generation of germline cell lineage trees (CLTs) and highlight the diversity of observed CLT sizes and topologies across species. We analyse competing models of symmetry breaking in CLTs to rationalize the observed dynamics and robustness of oocyte fate specification, and highlight remaining gaps in knowledge. We also explore how CLT topology affects cell cycle dynamics and synchronization and highlight mechanisms of intercellular coupling that underlie the observed collective growth patterns during oogenesis. Throughout, we point to similarities across organisms that warrant further investigation and comment on the extent to which experimental and theoretical findings made in model systems extend to other species.