Nonequilibrium physics in biology

Xiaona Fang, Karsten Kruse, Ting Lu, Jin Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Life is characterized by a myriad of complex dynamic processes allowing organisms to grow, reproduce, and evolve. Physical approaches for describing systems out of thermodynamic equilibrium have been increasingly applied to living systems, which often exhibit phenomena not found in those traditionally studied in physics. Spectacular advances in experimentation during the last decade or two, for example, in microscopy, single-cell dynamics, in the reconstruction of subcellular and multicellular systems outside of living organisms, and in high throughput data acquisition, have yielded an unprecedented wealth of data on cell dynamics, genetic regulation, and organismal development. These data have motivated the development and refinement of concepts and tools to dissect the physical mechanisms underlying biological processes. Notably, landscape and flux theory as well as active hydrodynamic gel theory have proven useful in this endeavor. Together with concepts and tools developed in other areas of nonequilibrium physics, significant progress has been made in unraveling the principles underlying efficient energy transport in photosynthesis, cellular regulatory networks, cellular movements and organization, embryonic development and cancer, neural network dynamics, population dynamics and ecology, as well as aging, immune responses, and evolution. Here recent advances in nonequilibrium physics are reviewd and their application to biological systems is surveyed. Many of these results are expected to be important cornerstones as the field continues to build our understanding of life.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number045004
JournalReviews of Modern Physics
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 20 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Physics and Astronomy


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