Soft Matter Seminar - Dr. Ben Larson (Uiversity of California, San Francisco)

Principles of cellular behavior: integrating cellular structure, dynamics, and decision making

Principles of cellular behavior: integrating cellular structure, dynamics, and decision making




Although it may be easy to think of cells as the simple building blocks of more complex organisms such as animals, single cells are capable of remarkably sophisticated behaviors such as navigating dynamic environments, hunting prey, and evading predation. These behaviors emerge from the interactions among myriad molecular components in conjunction with physical constraints and mechanisms that dictate interactions between the cell and its environment. I seek to navigate this mechanistic complexity using Euplotes, a ciliate that walks across surfaces using motile appendages (cirri) composed of bundles of cilia, as a model system. Analyses drawing on ideas from non-equilibrium physics and computer science revealed finite state machine-like processing embodied in walking Euplotes eurystomus cells. Cellular walking entails regulated transitions between a discrete set of gait states. The set of observed transitions decomposes into a small group of high-probability, temporally irreversible transitions and a large group of low-probability time-symmetric transitions, thus revealing stereotypy in sequential patterns of state transitions. Simulations and experiments suggest that the sequential logic of the gait is functionally important. Taken together, these findings implicate a finite state machine-like process. Cirri are connected by microtubule bundles (fibers), and we found that the dynamics of cirri involved in different state transitions are associated with the structure of the fiber system. Perturbative experiments revealed that the fibers mediate gait coordination, suggesting a mechanical basis of gait control. Ultimately, I aim to elucidate general principles of the regulation and evolution of cellular behavior by integrating understanding across scales of biological organization, linking cellular structure and physiology to patterns of behavior to environmental contexts.

Event Details


  • Date: 
    Tuesday, April 18, 2023 - 3:00pm to 4:00pm

Howey Building N201/202

For More Information Contact

Prof. Peter Yunker