Interactive Active Matter: crosstalk and interfaces between distinct active systems

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Sperms, bacteria, and biological tissues all work as engines, taking energy from their environment and converting it into motion. These active materials are capable of collective self-organization, self-pumping, self-healing and adaptation. As such, active materials perform a very crucial role in biological processes, ranging from formation of bacterial biofilms to organ development/differentiation, and tumor progression.

While major progress has been made in understanding the interaction of active matter with passive, inanimate microenvironments, e.g. extracellular matrices, the study of the cross-talk between living matter and a surrounding environment that itself can be active is still in its infancy. Such a cross-talk between different types of active material is central to a wide range of biological processes. Striking examples include host-pathogen interactions, where bacteria actively infiltrate the host tissue, the early stages of tumor progression; co-existence of epithelial and mesenchymal cells, phase segregation of embryonic stem cells at the early stages of embryo development, and collective migration of sperm cells within the male organ’s active epithelial tubes.

In this focus issue, we bring together interdisciplinary research at the interface of physics, microbiology, stem cell biology, and mechanobiology, to present the most recent advances, outstanding challenges, and future directions in studying interacting active materials.

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  • Amin Doostmohammadi

    Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen, Denmark

  • Anupam Sengupta

    Department of Physics and Materials Science, University of Luxembourg, Luxembourg

  • Evelyn Tang

    Department of Physics, Rice University, Houston, Texas, US