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Multi-scale fluctuations in non-equilibrium systems: statistical physics and biological application


Meigel,  Felix J.
Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Complex Systems, Max Planck Society;

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Meigel, F. J. (2023). Multi-scale fluctuations in non-equilibrium systems: statistical physics and biological application. PhD Thesis, Technische Universität Dresden, Dresden.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-000E-5C44-F
Understanding how fluctuations continuously propagate across spatial scales is fundamental for our understanding of inanimate matter. This is exemplified by self-similar fluctuations in critical phenomena and the propagation of energy fluctuations described by the Kolmogorov-Law in turbulence. Our understanding is based on powerful theoretical frameworks that integrate fluctuations on intermediary scales, as in renormalisation group or coupled mode theory. In striking contrast to typical inanimate systems, living matter is typically organised into a hierarchy of processes on a discrete set of spatial scales: from biochemical processes embedded in dynamic subcellular compartments to cells giving rise to tissues. Therefore, the understanding of living matter requires novel theories that predict the interplay of fluctuations on multiple scales of biological organisation and the ensuing emergent degrees of freedom. In this thesis, we derive a general theory of the multi-scale propagation of fluctuations in non-equilibrium systems and show that such processes underlie the regulation of cellular behaviour. Specifically, we draw on paradigmatic systems comprising stochastic many-particle systems undergoing dynamic compartmentalisation. We first derive a theory for emergent degrees of freedom in open systems, where the total mass is not conserved. We show that the compartment dynamics give rise to the localisation of probability densities in phase space resembling quasi-particle behaviour. This emergent quasi-particle exhibits fundamentally different response kinetics and steady states compared to systems lacking compartment dynamics. In order to investigate a potential biological function of such quasi-particle dynamics, we then apply this theory to the regulation of cell death. We derive a model describing the subcellular processes that regulate cell death and show that the quasi-particle dynamics gives rise to a kinetic low-pass filter which suppresses the response of the cell to fast fluituations in cellular stress signals. We test our predictions experimentally by quantifying cell death in cell cultures subject to stress stimuli varying in strength and duration. In closed systems, where the total mass is conserved, the effect of dynamic compartmentalisation depends on details of the kinetics on the scale of the stochastic many-particle dynamics. Using a second quantisation approach, we derive a commutator relation between the kinetic operators and the change in total entropy. Drawing on this, we show that the compartment dynamics alters the total entropy if the kinetics of the stochastic many-particle dynamics violate detailed balance. We apply this mechanism to the activation of cellular immune responses to RNA-virus infections. We show that dynamic compartmentalisation in closed systems gives rise to giant density fluctuations. This facilitates the emergence of gelation under conditions that violate theoretical gelation criteria in the absence of compartment dynamics. We show that such multi-scale gelation of protein complexes on the membranes of dynamic mitochondria governs the innate immune response. Taken together, we provide a general theory describing the multi-scale propagation of fluctuations in biological systems. Our work pioneers the development of a statistical physics of such systems and highlights emergent degrees of freedom spanning different scales of biological organisation. By demonstrating that cells manipulate how fluctuations propagate across these scales, our work motivates a rethinking of how the behaviour of cells is regulated.