Fundamental concepts from the field of nonequilibrium statistical physics have become increasingly crucial for the understanding of the spatial organization and dynamics of both single eukaryotic cells and multicellular organisms. It has been realized for a long time that biological systems excel at utilizing available free energy fluxes to overcome entropic limitations and build useful far-from-equilibrium structures. What is new, on the experimental side, is the availability of the extremely powerful tools of molecular genetics, fluorescence microscopy, less destructive electron microscopy and soon perhaps X-ray microscopy which provide increasingly detailed glimpses into the relatively unexplored world inside and around the cell. These efforts reveal highly structured cellular and extracellular spaces, where signaling pathways, intracellular machinery and cell-cell interactions are spatialy organized in ways heretofore not taken into account in most thinking about cellular and multicellular processes. At the same time, the physics-based scence of nonequilibrium spatially extended systems has matured to the point where it is contributing critical insights into fields as diverse as galaxy formation in astrophysics and microstructure selection in materials physics.
Combining the two trends, the physics of cellular and developmental proceses strives to build an explicit understanding of cellular scale phenomena, e.g. examining the intra-cellular calcium waves, Drosophila stripe formation, eukaryotic chemotaxis and cell-cell adhesion. The approach is to build theoretical models of observed behavior based upon the physical laws that govern the atomic and molecular behavior of the biomolecules from which the cells are assembled, and which serve as 'signals' between cells and larger , complex systems. Biological dynamics is able to develop this scale of modeling by fostering through synergistic interactions between molecular-scale modeling and research aimed at devising semi-quantitative, predictive approaches for mesoscale phenomena. This area of research requires the intimate collaboration of experimental biologist, observing and documenting biological behaviors, and physics theorists, who develop theoretical mathematical models to simulate or explain observed behavior.
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