Emergent Dynamics in Living Systems

Emergent Dynamics in Living Systems

How do complex dynamics and patterns in living systems emerge from stochastic molecular interactions in the cell, how are they coordinated at the population/tissue level, and what role do environmental constraints and interactions play in shaping and maintaining them?

Dynamics such as auto-regulation, oscillations and pattern formation which arise from the interaction of different components or agents are not only ubiquituous in nature but also essential to many biological functions in living systems that range from bacterial populations to mammalian tissues. In collaboration with quantitative experimentalists, our research at the interface of physics and biology combines concepts from dynamical systems, nonlinear dynamics and active matter with mathematical modeling to disentangle these processes. Our goal is to extract the fundamental mechanisms that are responsible for observed behavior and at the same time provide strategies for controlling biological systems for biotechnological and medical purposes.

We build models of cellular aggregates that undergo self-organization due to an entanglement of macroscopic physical phenomena such as mechanics and chemical diffusion with the single-cell dynamics such as cell division, gene regulation and metabolism. Using descriptions of varying degrees of detail (stochastic, determinstic, agent-based, continuous), we investigate cell-to-cell interactions and internal regulation, as well as their consequences for spatial organization, patterning, competition between multiple strains and evolution. The results of these investigations are broadly applicable to bacterial populations (biofilms) and tissues, with possible implications for, e.g., synthetic biology (engineered microbial systems), antibiotic resistance, embryonic development and tissue formation and maintenance.

Mechanical interactions due to growth and division

Mechanical forces between growing and dividing particles lead to the emergence of orientational order in confined spaces. (Y. Pollack, P. Bittihn)

Current members

Lukas Hupe (Ph.D. student)

Jonas Isensee (Ph.D. student)

Torben Sunkel (B.Sc. student)



Yoav Pollack (Postdoc)

Samantha Lish (OxCam PhD student)



Dorian Marx (Bachelor student, joint with J. Agudo-Canalejo)

Christina Goss (intern, Northwestern University)

Florian Aubermann (intern, Heidelberg University)

Thomas Boukéké-Lesplulier (intern, ENS Lyon)


Selected recent publications/preprints (full list on Google Scholar):

J. Isensee, L. Hupe, R. Golestanian, P. Bittihn
Stress anisotropy in confined populations of growing rods
J. R. Soc. Interface 19, 20220512 (2022)
Y. Pollack, P. Bittihn, R. Golestanian
A competitive advantage through fast dead matter elimination in confined cellular aggregates
New Journal of Physics 24, 073003 (2022)
M. Stevanovic, T. Boukéké-Lesplulier, L. Hupe, J. Hasty, P. Bittihn*, D. Schultz*
Nutrient gradients mediate complex colony-level antibiotic responses in structured microbial populations
Frontiers in Microbiology 13, 740259 (2022)
P. Bittihn, L. Hupe, J. Isensee, R. Golestanian
Local measures enable COVID-19 containment with fewer restrictions due to cooperative effects
EClinicalMedicine (The Lancet) 32, 100718 (2021)
P. Bittihn & R. Golestanian
Stochastic effects on the dynamics of an epidemic due to population subdivision
Chaos 30, 101102 (2020)
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