Massachusetts Institute of Technology

To explore how nonequilibrium dynamics can structure biological systems across scales from molecules to ecosystems

  • Amount $1,500,000
  • City Cambridge, MA
  • Investigator Jeff Gore
  • Year 2021
  • Program Research
  • Sub-program Matter-to-Life

Nonequilibrium dynamics is a thriving sub-field within physics that seeks to identify the principles underlying complex spatiotemporal patterns that arise in far from equilibrium systems. Living biological organisms are one important subclass of systems far from equilibrium, yet, due to their complexity and variety, they have remained relatively understudied by theorists and experimentalists alike. As such, significant questions exists both about the extent to which methods of nonequilibrium dynamics can be used to identify laws governing pattern formation and regularities in biological organisms. Funds from this grant support Jeff Gore, Nikta Fakhri, and Jörn Dunkel of MIT in a series of projects that will begin to examine whether and how nonequilibrium dynamics might be used as an organizing framework for understanding how ordered biological phenomena arise and evolve across a variety of scales. Topics to be explored by the team include the role of topology and topological defects in triggering order-enhancing processes in starfish cells; the assembly of ordered structures of colloidal molecules by motile bacteria; and how spatial distribution affects the evolution and ecology of microbe populations. In addition to knowledge gained, the project will involve the development and deployment of new imaging and theoretical analysis tools, expanding the available methods for the thermodynamic study of biological systems.

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