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Department of Mathematics

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Analysis of peristaltic waves and their role in migrating Physarum plasmodia

  • Author(s): Lewis, OL;
  • Guy, RD
  • et al.

The true slime mold Physarum polycephalum exhibits a vast array of sophisticated manipulations of its intracellular cytoplasm. Growing microplasmodia of Physarum have been observed to adopt an elongated tadpole shape, then contract in a rhythmic, traveling wave pattern that resembles peristaltic pumping. This contraction drives a fast flow of non-gelated cytoplasm along the cell longitudinal axis. It has been hypothesized that this flow of cytoplasm is a driving factor in generating motility of the plasmodium. In this work, we use two different mathematical models to investigate how peristaltic pumping within Physarum may be used to drive cellular motility. We compare the relative phase of flow and deformation waves predicted by both models to similar phase data collected from in vivo experiments using Physarum plasmodia. The first is a PDE model based on a dimensional reduction of peristaltic pumping within a finite length chamber. The second is a more sophisticated computational model which accounts for more general shape changes, more complex cellular mechanics, and dynamically modulated adhesion to the underlying substrate. This model allows us to directly compute cell crawling speed. Both models suggest that a mechanical asymmetry in the cell is required to reproduce the experimental observations. Such a mechanical asymmetry is also shown to increase the potential for cellular migration, as measured by both stress generation and migration velocity.

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