Insight |

Physics of living systems

Recent advances in our understanding of the physics of living systems have come from biologists and physicists working in close collaboration. This Insight celebrates this approach by showcasing research across all the length scales relevant to living systems — from molecules and cells to tissues, organisms and populations.


Reviews & Comment

Understanding the behaviour of almost any biological object is a fundamentally multiscale problem — a challenge that biophysicists have been increasingly embracing, building on two centuries of biophysical studies at a variety of length scales.

Comment | | Nature Physics

It may look like little more than slime, but the glycocalyx coating our cells plays a key role in cell signalling. And changes to its physical structure have been linked to cancer, triggering emergent behaviours that form the focus of this Review.

Review Article | | Nature Physics

Robust and responsive, the surface of a cell is as important as its interior when it comes to mechanically regulating form and function. New techniques are shedding light on this role, and a common language to describe its properties is now needed.

Perspective | | Nature Physics

Evidence that ants communicate mechanically to move objects several times their size has prompted a theory that places the group near a transition between uncoordinated and coordinated motion. These findings and their implications are reviewed here.

Review Article | | Nature Physics

Further reading

Biofilms of rod-shaped bacteria can grow from a two-dimensional layer of founder cells into a three-dimensional structure with a vertically aligned core. Here, the physics underlying this transition is traced down to the properties of individual cells.

Article | | Nature Physics

Magnetic tweezer measurements have revealed the forces associated with a star-shaped structure responsible for moving the sperm nucleus to the centre of the egg cell following fertilization.

News & Views | | Nature Physics

Cells in embryonic tissues generate coordinated forces to close small wounds rapidly without scarring. New research shows that large cell-to-cell variations in these forces are a key system feature that surprisingly speeds up wound healing.

News & Views | | Nature Physics

Epithelial cells are shown to scale via a shape distribution that is common to a number of different systems, suggesting that cell shape and shape variability are constrained through a relationship that is purely geometrical.

Article | | Nature Physics

The cluster size distribution of cells’ progeny in developing organs is found to be universal. A new theory inspired by the physics of aerosols suggests that collective cell dynamics leads to a critical state balancing merger with fragmentation.

Letter | | Nature Physics

Wrinkling in human brain organoids suggests that brain development may be mechanically driven, a notion supported only by model gels so far. Evidence in this simple living system highlights roles for cytoskeletal contraction and nuclear expansion.

Article | | Nature Physics

Swarms and statistical physics seem like natural bedfellows, but concepts like scaling are yet to prove directly applicable to insect group dynamics. A study of midges suggests they are, and that they may give rise to a new universality class.

Article | | Nature Physics

The centennial celebrations for morphology masterwork On Growth and Form are just kicking off. We look at why physicists should get involved.

Editorial | | Nature Physics