Author(s): Sumino Y, Nagai KH, Shitaka Y, Tanaka D, Yoshikawa K,
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Abstract Spontaneous collective motion, as in some flocks of bird and schools of fish, is an example of an emergent phenomenon. Such phenomena are at present of great interest and physicists have put forward a number of theoretical results that so far lack experimental verification. In animal behaviour studies, large-scale data collection is now technologically possible, but data are still scarce and arise from observations rather than controlled experiments. Multicellular biological systems, such as bacterial colonies or tissues, allow more control, but may have many hidden variables and interactions, hindering proper tests of theoretical ideas. However, in systems on the subcellular scale such tests may be possible, particularly in in vitro experiments with only few purified components. Motility assays, in which protein filaments are driven by molecular motors grafted to a substrate in the presence of ATP, can show collective motion for high densities of motors and attached filaments. This was demonstrated recently for the actomyosin system, but a complete understanding of the mechanisms at work is still lacking. Here we report experiments in which microtubules are propelled by surface-bound dyneins. In this system it is possible to study the local interaction: we find that colliding microtubules align with each other with high probability. At high densities, this alignment results in self-organization of the microtubules, which are on average 15 µm long, into vortices with diameters of around 400 µm. Inside the vortices, the microtubules circulate both clockwise and anticlockwise. On longer timescales, the vortices form a lattice structure. The emergence of these structures, as verified by a mathematical model, is the result of the smooth, reptation-like motion of single microtubules in combination with local interactions (the nematic alignment due to collisions)--there is no need for long-range interactions. Apart from its potential relevance to cortical arrays in plant cells and other biological situations, our study provides evidence for the existence of previously unsuspected universality classes of collective motion phenomena.
This article was published in Nature
and referenced in Cell & Developmental Biology