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Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich physicists investigating spontaneous pattern formation in a model system that includes motile proteins have discovered hitherto unobserved phenomena. Their findings afford new insights into biological processes.
Bird flocks and bacterial suspensions, but also the dynamic filamentous protein systems that make up the cytoskeleton of eukaryotic cells, have something in common. From the physicist's point of view, these are all examples of active matter, i.e. systems whose components are capable of converting chemical energy into active motion. How these components self-organize into functional assemblies is one of the central problems in cell biology, because many of the essential processes that take place in cells are based on the self-organization of complex molecular structures into patterns. In collaboration with Professor Andreas Bausch at the Technical University of Munich, LMU physicists led by Professor Erwin Frey have studied a popular model system for active matter, and discovered phenomena never before observed. First of all, the researchers found that distinct patterns can emerge under the same starting conditions and, furthermore, these ordered states can dynamically coexist with one another. Secondly, subtle fluctuations on the microscopic level do not die away. Instead they can have significant consequences for the whole system at the macroscopic level. The new study appears in the journal Science.
Frey - Colleagues - Motility - Model - System
Frey and his colleagues used a standard motility assay as their model. In this system, myosin motor proteins are attached to a substrate to form a kind of carpet. Then a solution containing filamentous polymers of the protein actin in added. In the presence of a chemical energy source (ATP), the filaments bind to the motor proteins and are actively transported within the array. "Under standard conditions, the actin filaments move in wave-like clusters," says Lorenz Huber, a doctoral student in Frey's group and, together with Ryo Suzuki and...
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