Local Sensing in
Disordered Living Systems
How do organisms buffer themselves against large environmental fluctuations and accommodate adaptation over a wide range of length and time scales?
Our research is aimed at understanding how organisms change their micro-environment to buffer themselves against harmful environmental fluctuations, while still allowing for exchange of energy, matter and information with the macro-world. This includes protein assemblies that remain intact under varying external mechanical and chemical stimuli, beetles that navigate using volatile celestial cues, and honeybee clusters that change their morphology to both withstand mechanical stresses, and to regulate their bulk temperature. Each of these examples is a complex system, where the individual building blocks (a protein, cell, plant, insect, etc.) can sense their micro-environment and respond in a way that promotes survival; typically, the response changes the macro-environment the individual is embedded in, thus creating a perpetual coupling between the individuals, the group and the environment (illustrated above).
In active biological-physical systems, disorder could be a plus: while ordered systems are stable and predictable, they leave little room for exploration – a crucial survival mechanism for organisms in varying environments. What is the optimal level of disorder suitable for each system? To address this, we conceptualize organisms as living-matter, use various numerical and analytical techniques, and maintain a strong connection to experiments, either by conducting them ourselves or via collaborations. We explore natural history from the perspective of physics, and develop testable phenomenological theories that could bring a deeper understanding of the physics of living systems.