Published: Jan. 30, 2015
Model cartoon

T. Gao, R. Blackwell, M. A. Glaser, M. D. Betterton, and M. J. Shelley (2015). Physical Review Letters 114, 048101. arXiv:1401.8059. Download.

Microtubules and motor proteins are building blocks of self-organized subcellular biological structures such as the mitotic spindle and the centrosomal microtubule array. These same ingredients can form new “bioactive” liquid-crystalline fluids that are intrinsically out of equilibrium and which display complex flows and defect dynamics. It is not yet well understood how microscopic activity, which involves polarity-dependent interactions between motor proteins and microtubules, yields such larger-scale dynamical structures. In our multiscale theory, Brownian dynamics simulations of polar microtubule ensembles driven by cross-linking motors allow us to study microscopic organization and stresses. Polarity sorting and crosslink relaxation emerge as two polar-specific sources of active destabilizing stress. On larger length scales, our continuum Doi-Onsager theory captures the hydrodynamic flows generated by polarity-dependent active stresses. The results connect local polar structure to flow structures and defect dynamics.