Proliferating active matter

Oskar Hallatschek*, Sujit S. Datta, Knut Drescher, Jom Dunkel, Jens Elgeti, Bartek Waclaw, Ned S. Wingreen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

The fascinating patterns of collective motion created by autonomously driven particles have fuelled active-matter research for over two decades. So far, theoretical active-matter research has often focused on systems with a fixed number of particles. This constraint imposes strict limitations on what behaviours can and cannot emerge. However, a hallmark of life is the breaking of local cell number conservation by replication and death. Birth and death processes must be taken into account, for example, to predict the growth and evolution of a microbial biofilm, the expansion of a tumour, or the development from a fertilized egg into an embryo and beyond. In this Perspective, we argue that unique features emerge in these systems because proliferation represents a distinct form of activity: not only do the proliferating entities consume and dissipate energy, they also inject biomass and degrees of freedom capable of further self-proliferation, leading to myriad dynamic scenarios. Despite this complexity, a growing number of studies document common collective phenomena in various proliferating soft-matter systems. This generality leads us to propose proliferation as another direction of active-matter physics, worthy of a dedicated search for new dynamical universality classes. Conceptual challenges abound, from identifying control parameters and understanding large fluctuations and nonlinear feedback mechanisms to exploring the dynamics and limits of information flow in self-replicating systems. We believe that, by extending the rich conceptual framework developed for conventional active matter to proliferating active matter, researchers can have a profound impact on quantitative biology and reveal fascinating emergent physics along the way.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)407-419
Number of pages13
JournalNature Reviews Physics
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 31 May 2023

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Pattern-Formation
  • Escherichia-Coli
  • Genetic Drift
  • Growth
  • Biofilims
  • Bacteria
  • System
  • Model
  • Morphogenesis
  • Chemotaxis


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