Statistical and Biological Physics

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Broken detailed balance at mesoscopic scales in active biological systems

C Battle, CP Broedersz, N Fakhri, VF Geyer, J Howard, CF Schmidt, FC MacKintosh

nonequilibriumdetector_cover_newHow can you tell if a fluctuating system is in or out of thermodynamic equilibrium? Systems in thermodynamic equilibrium are not only characterized by time-independent macroscopic properties, but also satisfy the principle of detailed balance in the transitions between microscopic configurations. Living systems function out of equilibrium and are characterized by directed fluxes through chemical states, which violate detailed balance at the molecular scale. We introduce a method to probe for broken detailed balance and demonstrate how such nonequilibrium dynamics are manifest at the mesosopic scale. The periodic beating of an isolated flagellum from Chlamydomonas reinhardtii exhibits probability flux in the phase space of shapes. With a model, we show how the breaking of detailed balance can also be quantified in stationary, non-equilibrium stochastic systems in the absence of periodic motion. We further demonstrate such broken detailed balance in the nonperiodic fluctuations of primary cilia of epithelial cells. Our analysis provides a general tool to identify nonequilibrium dynamics in cells and tissues.