Statistical and Biological Physics

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Cells must ensure that molecular cargoes are delivered in a timely manner to their intended destinations in order to perform their biological functions. To do so, cells employ sophisticated transport mechanisms that are usually based on specific interactions, where energy-consuming motor proteins convey cargo to its destination. In a joint effort between experiment and theory, we have uncovered an additional mode of transport driven by pattern-forming reaction-diffusion systems. We demonstrated that ATP-driven protein patterns can induce diffusiophoresis of other, completely unrelated biomolecules by a genuinely nonequilibrium coupling. Our findings indicate a rudimentary and purely physical transport process so far not described in biological systems, which does not rely on specific interactions and is therefore robust against mutations. more

How does a macroscopic length scale emerge as a result of a collective pattern formation process from microscopic dynamics? This question is of great interest in a broad class of far-from-equilibrium systems, including active matter, granular media, and intracellular phase separation. In our work, we study length scale selection in the important class of reaction—diffusion systems dominated by mass-conserving reactions. Our main finding is that wavelength selection in such systems can be understood as a coarsening process that stops at a certain point. Based on this idea, we present a quantitative theory that reveals the physical mechanism of coarsening in mass-conserving reaction–diffusion systems and provides a simple, intuitive criterion for when it stops. more