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.

For example, we build models of bacterial populations that undergo self-organization due to an entanglement of macroscopic physical phenomena such as diffusion and mechanics 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 natural and engineered gene-regulatory networks and cell-to-cell interactions, as well as their consequences for spatial organization, orientational order, competition between multiple strains and evolution. The results of these investigations are broadly applicable to microbiome organization, synthetic biology (engineered microbial systems), antibiotic resistance and biofilm control.

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)
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