Colloidal hydrodynamics of biological cells: A frontier spanning two fields

AJ Maheshwari and AM Sunol and E Gonzalez and D Endy and RN Zia, PHYSICAL REVIEW FLUIDS, 4, 110506 (2019).

DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevFluids.4.110506

One of the ultimate goals of science is an understanding of biological cells so complete that one can construct a living cell from its constituent molecules, control its dynamics, and repair its machinery. Advances in experimental and computational biology techniques over the past 30 years have led to landmark progress toward this goal, from atomistic models of proteins to synthesis of entire bacterial genomes. However, the current frontier in operational mastery of cells arguably resides at the interface between biology and fluid physics: cellular processes that operate over colloidal length scales, where continuum fluid mechanics and Brownian motion underlie whole-cell-scale behavior. It is at the colloidal scale that much of cell machinery operates and where reconstitution and manipulation of cells is most challenging. This operational regime is centered between the two well-understood regimes of structural biology and systems biology, where the former focuses on atomistic-scale spatial resolution with little time evolution and the latter on kinetic models that abstract space away. Low-Reynolds-number colloidal hydrodynamics modeling bridges the divide between these regimes by unifying the disparate length scales and timescales of solvent molecule and colloidal dynamics and may hold the key to operational mastery of cells. Bridging the divide between the two disciplines of biology and fluid physics is as much a part of the way forward as are developing new tools and asking new questions. In this paper we highlight the central and nontrivial roles played by low- Reynolds-number hydrodynamics and colloidal-scale motion that appear in common across cell functions, types, and conditions.

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