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Annu Rev Phys Chem. 2009;60:469-86. doi: 10.1146/annurev.physchem.040808.090304.

Active biological materials.

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Department of Bioengineering, University of California, Berkeley, California 94720, USA.


Cells make use of dynamic internal structures to control shape and create movement. By consuming energy to assemble into highly organized systems of interacting parts, these structures can generate force and resist compression, as well as adaptively change in response to their environment. Recent progress in reconstituting cytoskeletal structures in vitro has provided an opportunity to characterize the mechanics and dynamics of filament networks formed from purified proteins. Results indicate that a complex interplay between length scales and timescales underlies the mechanical responses of these systems and that energy consumption, as manifested in molecular motor activity and cytoskeletal filament growth, can drive transitions between distinct material states. This review discusses the basic characteristics of these active biological materials that set them apart from conventional materials and that create a rich array of unique behaviors.

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