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Spontaneous symmetry breaking in active droplets provides a generic route to motility

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)12381-12386
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Volume109
Issue number31
DOIs
StatePublished - 31 Jul 2012

Abstract

We explore a generic mechanism whereby a droplet of active matter acquires motility by the spontaneous breakdown of a discrete symmetry. The model we study offers a simple representation of a "cell extract" comprising, e.g., a droplet of actomyosin solution. (Such extracts are used experimentally to model the cytoskeleton). Actomyosin is an active gel whose polarity describes the mean sense of alignment of actin fibres. In the absence of polymerization and depolymerization processes ('treadmilling'), the gel's dynamics arises solely from the contractile motion of myosin motors; this should be unchanged when polarity is inverted. Our results suggest that motility can arise in the absence of treadmilling, by spontaneous symmetry breaking (SSB) of polarity inversion symmetry. Adapting our model to wall-bound cells in two dimensions,we find that as wall friction is reduced, treadmilling-induced motility falls but SSB-mediated motility rises. The latter might therefore be crucial in three dimensions where frictional forces are likely to be modest. At a supracellular level, the same generic mechanism can impart motility to aggregates of nonmotile but active bacteria; we show that SSB in this (extensile) case leads generically to rotational as well as translational motion.

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