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Non-equilibrium statistical physics, transitory epigenetic landscapes, and cell fate decision dynamics

  • Received: 09 August 2020 Accepted: 02 November 2020 Published: 10 November 2020
  • Statistical physics provides a useful perspective for the analysis of many complex systems; it allows us to relate microscopic fluctuations to macroscopic observations. Developmental biology, but also cell biology more generally, are examples where apparently robust behaviour emerges from highly complex and stochastic sub-cellular processes. Here we attempt to make connections between different theoretical perspectives to gain qualitative insights into the types of cell-fate decision making processes that are at the heart of stem cell and developmental biology. We discuss both dynamical systems as well as statistical mechanics perspectives on the classical Waddington or epigenetic landscape. We find that non-equilibrium approaches are required to overcome some of the shortcomings of classical equilibrium statistical thermodynamics or statistical mechanics in order to shed light on biological processes, which, almost by definition, are typically far from equilibrium.

    Citation: Anissa Guillemin, Michael P. H. Stumpf. Non-equilibrium statistical physics, transitory epigenetic landscapes, and cell fate decision dynamics[J]. Mathematical Biosciences and Engineering, 2020, 17(6): 7916-7930. doi: 10.3934/mbe.2020402

    Related Papers:

  • Statistical physics provides a useful perspective for the analysis of many complex systems; it allows us to relate microscopic fluctuations to macroscopic observations. Developmental biology, but also cell biology more generally, are examples where apparently robust behaviour emerges from highly complex and stochastic sub-cellular processes. Here we attempt to make connections between different theoretical perspectives to gain qualitative insights into the types of cell-fate decision making processes that are at the heart of stem cell and developmental biology. We discuss both dynamical systems as well as statistical mechanics perspectives on the classical Waddington or epigenetic landscape. We find that non-equilibrium approaches are required to overcome some of the shortcomings of classical equilibrium statistical thermodynamics or statistical mechanics in order to shed light on biological processes, which, almost by definition, are typically far from equilibrium.


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