Publications

2018
Amir A, Oreg Y, Imry Y. Thermal conductivity in 1d: disorder-induced transition from anomalous to normal scaling. [Internet]. 2018. arXivAbstract
It is well known that the contribution of harmonic phonons to the thermal conductivity of 1D systems diverges with the harmonic chain length L (explicitly, increases with L as a power-law with a positive power). Furthermore, within various one-dimensional models containing disorder it was shown that this divergence persists, with the thermal conductivity scaling as √L under certain boundary conditions, where L is the length of the harmonic chain. Here we show that when the chain is weakly coupled to the heat reservoirs and there is strong disorder this scaling can be violated. We find a weaker power-law dependence on L, and show that for sufficiently strong disorder the thermal conductivity stops being anomalous -- despite both density-of-states and the diverging localization length scaling anomalously. Surprisingly, in this strong disorder regime two anomalously scaling quantities cancel each other to recover Fourier's law of heat transport.
Upadhyaya N, Amir A. Disorder engineering: From structural coloration to acoustic filters. [Internet]. 2018. arXivAbstract
We study Anderson localization of waves in a one dimensional disordered meta-material of bilayers comprising of thin fixed length scatterers placed randomly along a homogenous medium. As an interplay between order and disorder, we identify a new regime of strong disorder where the localization length becomes independent of the amount of disorder but depends on the frequency of the wave excitation and on the properties of the fixed length scatterer. As an example of a naturally occurring nearly one dimensional disordered bilayer, we calculate the wavelength dependent reflection spectrum for Koi fish using the experimentally measured parameters, and find that the main mechanisms for the emergence of their silver structural coloration can be explained through the phenomenon of Anderson localization of light in the regime of strong disorder discussed above. Finally, we show that by tuning the thickness of the fixed length scatterer, the above design principles could be used to engineer disordered meta-materials which selectively allows harmonics of a fundamental frequency to be transmitted in an effect which is similar to the insertion of a half wave cavity in a quarter wavelength stack. However, in contrast to the Lorentzian resonant peak of a half-wave cavity, we find that our disordered layer has a Gaussian lineshape whose width becomes narrower as the number of disordered layers is increased.
Ho P-Y, Lin J, Amir A. Modeling cell size regulation: From single-cell level statistics to molecular mechanisms and population level effects. [Internet]. 2018. arXivAbstract
Most microorganisms regulate their cell size. We review here some of the mathematical formulations of the problem of cell size regulation. We focus on coarse-grained stochastic models and the statistics they generate. We review the biologically relevant insights obtained from these models. We then describe cell cycle regulation and their molecular implementations, protein number regulation, and population growth, all in relation to size regulation. Finally, we discuss several future directions for developing understanding beyond phenomenological models of cell size regulation.
Eun Y-J, Ho P-Y, Kim M, LaRussa S, Robert L, Renner LD, Schmid A, Garner E, Amir A. Archaeal cells share common size control with bacteria despite noisier growth and division. Nature Microbiology [Internet]. 2018;3 :148-154. Publisher's VersionAbstract
In nature, microorganisms exhibit different volumes spanning six orders of magnitude 1 . Despite their capability to create different sizes, a clonal population in a given environment maintains a uniform size across individual cells. Recent studies in eukaryotic and bacterial organisms showed that this homogeneity in cell size can be accomplished by growing a constant size between two cell cycle events (that is, the adder model 2-6 ). Demonstration of the adder model led to the hypothesis that this phenomenon is a consequence of convergent evolution. Given that archaeal cells share characteristics with both bacteria and eukaryotes, we investigated whether and how archaeal cells exhibit control over cell size. To this end, we developed a soft-lithography method of growing the archaeal cells to enable quantitative time-lapse imaging and single-cell analysis, which would be useful for other microorganisms. Using this method, we demonstrated that Halobacterium salinarum, a hypersaline-adapted archaeal organism, grows exponentially at the single-cell level and maintains a narrow-size distribution by adding a constant length between cell division events. Interestingly, the archaeal cells exhibited greater variability in cell division placement and exponential growth rate across individual cells in a population relative to those observed in Escherichia coli 6-9 . Here, we present a theoretical framework that explains how these larger fluctuations in archaeal cell cycle events contribute to cell size variability and control.
2017
Logsdon MM, Ho P-Y, Papavinasasundaram K, Richardson K, Cokol M, Sassetti CM, Amir A, Aldridge BB. A Parallel Adder Coordinates Mycobacterial Cell-Cycle Progression and Cell-Size Homeostasis in the Context of Asymmetric Growth and Organization. Current Biology [Internet]. 2017. Publisher's VersionAbstract
In model bacteria, such as Ecoli and Bsubtilis, regulation of cell-cycle progression and cellular organization achieves consistency in cell size, replication dynamics, and chromosome positioning [ 1–3 ]. Mycobacteria elongate and divide asymmetrically, giving rise to significant variation in cell size and elongation rate among closely related cells [ 4, 5 ]. Given the physical asymmetry of mycobacteria, the models that describe coordination of cellular organization and cell-cycle progression in model bacteria are not directly translatable [ 1, 2, 6–8 ]. Here, we used time-lapse microscopy and fluorescent reporters of DNA replication and chromosome positioning to examine the coordination of growth, division, and chromosome dynamics at a single-cell level in Mycobacterium smegmatis (M. smegmatis) and Mycobacterium bovis Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG). By analyzing chromosome and replisome localization, we demonstrated that chromosome positioning is asymmetric and proportional to cell size. Furthermore, we found that cellular asymmetry is maintained throughout the cell cycle and is not established at division. Using measurements and stochastic modeling of mycobacterial cell size and cell-cycle timing in both slow and fast growth conditions, we found that well-studied models of cell-size control are insufficient to explain the mycobacterial cell cycle. Instead, we showed that mycobacterial cell-cycle progression is regulated by an unprecedented mechanism involving parallel adders (i.e., constant growth increments) that start at replication initiation. Together, these adders enable mycobacterial populations to regulate cell size, growth, and heterogeneity in the face of varying environments.
Barber F, Ho P-Y, Murray AW, Amir A. Details Matter: noise and model structure set the relationship between cell size and cell cycle timing. [Internet]. 2017. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Organisms across all domains of life regulate the size of their cells. However, the means by which this is done is poorly understood. We study two abstracted "molecular" models for size regulation: inhibitor dilution and initiator accumulation. We apply the models to two settings: bacteria like Escherichia coli, that grow fully before they set a division plane and divide into two equally sized cells, and cells that form a bud early in the cell division cycle, confine new growth to that bud, and divide at the connection between that bud and the mother cell, like the budding yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. In budding cells, delaying cell division until buds reach the same size as their mother leads to very weak size control, with average cell size and standard deviation of cell size increasing over time and saturating up to 100-fold higher than those values for cells that divide when the bud is still substantially smaller than its mother. In budding yeast, both inhibitor dilution or initiator accumulation models are consistent with the observation that the daughters of diploid cells add a constant volume before they divide. This adder behavior has also been observed in bacteria. We find that in bacteria an inhibitor dilution model produces adder correlations that are not robust to noise in the timing of DNA replication initiation or in the timing from initiation of DNA replication to cell division (the C + D period). In contrast, in bacteria an initiator accumulation model yields robust adder correlations in the regime where noise in the timing of DNA replication initiation is much greater than noise in the C + D period, as reported previously [1]. In bacteria, division into two equally sized cells does not broaden the size distribution.
Wong F, Amir A, Gunawardena J. An energy-speed-accuracy relation in complex networks for biological discrimination. [Internet]. 2017. arXivAbstract
Discriminating between correct and incorrect substrates is a core process in biology but how is energy apportioned between the conflicting demands of accuracy (μ), speed (σ) and total entropy production rate (P)? Previous studies have focussed on biochemical networks with simple structure or relied on simplifying kinetic assumptions. Here, we use the linear framework for timescale separation to analytically examine steady-state probabilities away from thermodynamic equilibrium for networks of arbitrary complexity. We also introduce a method of scaling parameters that is inspired by Hopfield's treatment of kinetic proofreading. Scaling allows asymptotic exploration of high-dimensional parameter spaces. We identify in this way a broad class of complex networks and scalings for which the quantity σ*ln(μ)/P remains asymptotically finite whenever accuracy improves from equilibrium, so that μ_eq/μ→0. Scalings exist, however, even for Hopfield's original network, for which σ*ln(μ)/P is asymptotically infinite, illustrating the parametric complexity. Outside the asymptotic regime, numerical calculations suggest that, under more restrictive parametric assumptions, networks satisfy the bound, σ*ln(μ/μ_eq)/P<1, and we discuss the biological implications for discrimination by ribosomes and DNA polymerase. The methods introduced here may be more broadly useful for analysing complex networks that implement other forms of cellular information processing.
Lin J, Amir A. The Effects of Stochasticity at the Single-Cell Level and Cell Size Control on the Population Growth. Cell Systems [Internet]. 2017. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Establishing a quantitative connection between the population growth rate and the generation times of single cells is a prerequisite for understanding evolutionary dynamics of microbes. However, existing theories fail to account for the experimentally observed correlations between mother-daughter generation times that are unavoidable when cell size is controlled for, which is essentially always the case. Here, we study population-level growth in the presence of cell size control and corroborate our theory using experimental measurements of single-cell growth rates. We derive a closed formula for the population growth rate and demonstrate that it only depends on the single-cell growth rate variability, not other sources of stochasticity. Our work provides an evolutionary rationale for the narrow growth rate distributions often observed in nature: when single-cell growth rates are less variable but have a fixed mean, the population will exhibit an enhanced population growth rate as long as the correlations between the mother and daughter cells' growth rates are not too strong.
Hussain S, Wivagg CN, Szwedziak P, Wong F, Schaefer K, Izore T, Renner LD, Sun Y, Bisson Filho AW, Walker S, et al. MreB Filaments Create Rod Shape By Aligning Along Principal Membrane Curvature. [Internet]. 2017. bioRxivAbstract
MreB is essential for rod shape in many bacteria. Membrane-associated MreB filaments move around the rod circumference, helping to insert cell wall in the radial direction to reinforce rod shape. To understand how oriented MreB motion arises, we altered the shape of Bacillus subtilis. MreB motion is isotropic in round cells, and orientation is restored when rod shape is externally imposed. Stationary filaments orient within protoplasts, and purified MreB tubulates liposomes in vitro, orienting within tubes. Together, this demonstrates MreB orients along the greatest principal membrane curvature, a conclusion supported with biophysical modeling. We observed that spherical cells regenerate into rods in a local, self-reinforcing manner: rapidly propagating rods emerge from small bulges, exhibiting oriented MreB motion and increased glycan crosslinking. We propose that the coupling of MreB filament alignment to shape-reinforcing peptidoglycan synthesis creates a locally-acting, self-organizing mechanism allowing the rapid establishment and stable maintenance of emergent rod shape.
Wong F, Renner LD, Özbaykal G, Paulose J, Weibel DB, van Teeffelen S, Amir A. Mechanical strain sensing implicated in cell shape recovery in Escherichia coli. Nature Microbiology [Internet]. 2017;2 :17115. Publisher's VersionAbstract
The shapes of most bacteria are imparted by the structures of their peptidoglycan cell walls, which are determined by many dynamic processes that can be described on various length scales ranging from short-range glycan insertions to cellular-scale elasticity. Understanding the mechanisms that maintain stable, rod-like morphologies in certain bacteria has proved to be challenging due to an incomplete understanding of the feedback between growth and the elastic and geometric properties of the cell wall. Here, we probe the effects of mechanical strain on cell shape by modelling the mechanical strains caused by bending and differential growth of the cell wall. We show that the spatial coupling of growth to regions of high mechanical strain can explain the plastic response of cells to bending and quantitatively predict the rate at which bent cells straighten. By growing filamentous Escherichia coli cells in doughnut-shaped microchambers, we find that the cells recovered their straight, native rod-shaped morphologies when released from captivity at a rate consistent with the theoretical prediction. We then measure the localization of MreB, an actin homologue crucial to cell wall synthesis, inside confinement and during the straightening process, and find that it cannot explain the plastic response to bending or the observed straightening rate. Our results implicate mechanical strain sensing, implemented by components of the elongasome yet to be fully characterized, as an important component of robust shape regulation in E. coli.
Asban O, Amir A, Imry Y, Schechter M. Effect of interactions and disorder on the relaxation of two-level systems in amorphous solids. Physical Review B [Internet]. 2017;95 :144207. Publisher's VersionAbstract

At low temperatures the dynamical degrees of freedom in amorphous solids are tunneling two-level systems (TLSs). Concentrating on these degrees of freedom, and taking into account disorder and TLS-TLS interactions, we obtain a “TLS glass,” described by the random-field Ising model with random 1/r^3 interactions. In this paper we perform a self-consistent mean-field calculation, previously used to study the electron-glass (EG) model [A. Amir et al.Phys. Rev. B 77, 165207 (2008)]. Similarly to the electron glass, we find a 1/λ distribution of relaxation rates λ, leading to logarithmic slow relaxation. However, with increased interactions the EG model shows slower dynamics whereas the TLS-glass model shows faster dynamics. This suggests that given system-specific properties, glass dynamics can be slowed down or sped up by the interactions.

Amir A. Point of view: Is cell size a spandrel?. eLife [Internet]. 2017;6 :e22186. Publisher's VersionAbstract

All organisms control the size of their cells. We focus here on the question of size regulation in bacteria, and suggest that the quantitative laws governing cell size and its dependence on growth rate may arise as byproducts of a regulatory mechanism which evolved to support multiple DNA replication forks. In particular, we show that the increase of bacterial cell size during Lenski’s long-term evolution experiments is a natural outcome of this proposal. This suggests that, in the context of evolution, cell size may be a 'spandrel'

Lahini Y, Gottesman O, Amir A, Rubinstein S. Non-Monotonic Aging and Memory Retention in Disordered Mechanical Systems. Physical Review Letters [Internet]. 2017;118 :085501. Physics ViewpointAbstract

We observe nonmonotonic aging and memory effects, two hallmarks of glassy dynamics, in two disordered mechanical systems: crumpled thin sheets and elastic foams. Under fixed compression, both systems exhibit monotonic nonexponential relaxation. However, when after a certain waiting time the compression is partially reduced, both systems exhibit a nonmonotonic response: the normal force first increases over many minutes or even hours until reaching a peak value, and only then is relaxation resumed. The peak time scales linearly with the waiting time, indicating that these systems retain long-lasting memory of previous conditions. Our results and the measured scaling relations are in good agreement with a theoretical model recently used to describe observations of monotonic aging in several glassy systems, suggesting that the nonmonotonic behavior may be generic and that athermal systems can show genuine glassy behavior.

2016
Zheng H, Ho P-Y, Jiang M, Tang B, Liu W, Li D, Yu X, Kleckner NE, Amir A, Liu C. Interrogating the Escherichia coli cell cycle by cell dimension perturbations. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA [Internet]. 2016. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Bacteria tightly regulate and coordinate the various events in their cell cycles to duplicate themselves accurately and to control their cell sizes. Growth of Escherichia coli, in particular, follows a relation known as Schaechter’s growth law. This law says that the average cell volume scales exponentially with growth rate, with a scaling exponent equal to the time from initiation of a round of DNA replication to the cell division at which the corresponding sister chromosomes segregate. Here, we sought to test the robustness of the growth law to systematic perturbations in cell dimensions achieved by varying the expression levels of mreB and ftsZ. We found that decreasing the mreB level resulted in increased cell width, with little change in cell length, whereas decreasing the ftsZ level resulted in increased cell length. Furthermore, the time from replication termination to cell division increased with the perturbed dimension in both cases. Moreover, the growth law remained valid over a range of growth conditions and dimension perturbations. The growth law can be quantitatively interpreted as a consequence of a tight coupling of cell division to replication initiation. Thus, its robustness to perturbations in cell dimensions strongly supports models in which the timing of replication initiation governs that of cell division, and cell volume is the key phenomenological variable governing the timing of replication initiation. These conclusions are discussed in the context of our recently proposed “adder-per-origin” model, in which cells add a constant volume per origin between initiations and divide a constant time after initiation.

Eisenbach A, Havdala T, Delahaye J, Grenet T, Amir A, Frydman A. Glassy Dynamics in Disordered Electronic Systems Reveal Striking Thermal Memory Effects. Physical Review Letters. 2016;117 :116601.Abstract

Memory is one of the unique qualities of a glassy system. The relaxation of a glass to equilibrium contains information on the sample’s excitation history, an effect often refer to as “aging.” We demonstrate that under the right conditions a glass can also possess a different type of memory. We study the conductance relaxation of electron glasses that are fabricated at low temperatures. Remarkably, the dynamics are found to depend not only on the ambient measurement temperature but also on the maximum temperature to which the system was exposed. Hence the system “remembers” its highest temperature. This effect may be qualitatively understood in terms of energy barriers and local minima in configuration space and therefore may be a general property of the glass state.

Cook CQ, Amir A. Chirped photonic crystals: a natural strategy for broadband reflectance. Optica [Internet]. 2016;3 :1436-1439. Publisher's VersionAbstract

One-dimensional photonic crystals with slowly varying, i.e. "chirped", lattice period are responsible for broadband light reflectance in many diverse biological contexts, ranging from the shiny coatings of various beetles to the eyes of certain butterflies. We present a quantum scattering analogy for light reflection from these adiabatically chirped photonic crystals (ACPCs) and apply a WKB-type approximation to obtain a closed-form expression for the reflectance. From this expression we infer several design principles, including a differential equation for the chirp pattern required to elicit a given reflectance spectrum and the minimal number of bilayers required to exceed a desired reflectance threshold. Comparison of the number of bilayers found in ACPCs throughout nature and our predicted minimal required number also gives a quantitative measure of the optimality of chirped biological reflectors. Together these results elucidate the design principles of chirped reflectors in nature and their possible application to future optical technologies.

Amir A, Lemeshko M, Tokieda T. Surprises in numerical expressions of physical constants. American Mathematical Monthly. 2016;123 (6) :609-612.Abstract

In science, as in life, "surprises" can be adequately appreciated only in the presence of a null model, what we expect a priori. In physics, theories sometimes express the values of dimensionless physical constants as combinations of mathematical constants like pi or e. The inverse problem also arises, whereby the measured value of a physical constant admits a "surprisingly" simple approximation in terms of well-known mathematical constants. Can we estimate the probability for this to be a mere coincidence, rather than an inkling of some theory? We answer the question in the most naive form.

Marantan A, Amir A. Stochastic modeling of cell growth with symmetric or asymmetric division. 2016.Abstract

We consider a class of biologically-motivated stochastic processes in which a unicellular organism divides its resources (volume or damaged proteins, in particular) symmetrically or asymmetrically between its progeny. Assuming the final amount of the resource is controlled by a growth policy and subject to additive and multiplicative noise, we derive the "master equation" describing how the resource distribution evolves over subsequent generations and use it to study the properties of stable resource distributions. We find conditions under which a unique stable resource distribution exists and calculate its moments for the class of affine linear growth policies. Moreover, we apply an asymptotic analysis to elucidate the conditions under which the stable distribution (when it exists) has a power-law tail. Finally, we use the results of this asymptotic analysis along with the moment equations to draw a stability phase diagram for the system that reveals the counterintuitive result that asymmetry serves to increase stability while at the same time widening the stable distribution. We also briefly discuss how cells can divide damaged proteins asymmetrically between their progeny as a form of damage control. In the appendix, motivated by the asymmetric division of cell volume in Saccharomyces cerevisiae, we extend our results to the case wherein mother and daughter cells follow different growth policies.

Amir A, Hatano N, Nelson DR. Non-Hermitian Localization in Biological Networks. Phys. Rev. E (Editor's Choice) [Internet]. 2016;93 :042310. arXivAbstract

We explore the spectra and localization properties of the N-site banded one-dimensional non-Hermitian random matrices that arise naturally in sparse neural networks. Approximately equal numbers of random excitatory and inhibitory connections lead to spatially localized eigenfunctions and an intricate eigenvalue spectrum in the complex plane that controls the spontaneous activity and induced response. A finite fraction of the eigenvalues condense onto the real or imaginary axes. For large N, the spectrum has remarkable symmetries not only with respect to reflections across the real and imaginary axes but also with respect to 90 rotations, with an unusual anisotropic divergence in the localization length near the origin. When chains with periodic boundary conditions become directed, with a systematic directional bias superimposed on the randomness, a hole centered on the origin opens up in the density-of-states in the complex plane. All states are extended on the rim of this hole, while the localized eigenvalues outside the hole are unchanged. The bias-dependent shape of this hole tracks the bias-independent contours of constant localization length. We treat the large-Nlimit by a combination of direct numerical diagonalization and using transfer matrices, an approach that allows us to exploit an electrostatic analogy connecting the “charges” embodied in the eigenvalue distribution with the contours of constant localization length. We show that similar results are obtained for more realistic neural networks that obey “Dale's law” (each site is purely excitatory or inhibitory) and conclude with perturbation theory results that describe the limit of large directional bias, when all states are extended. Related problems arise in random ecological networks and in chains of artificial cells with randomly coupled gene expression patterns.

2015
Kostinski S, Amir A. An elementary derivation of first and last return times of 1D random walks. Am. J. Phys. 2015.Abstract

Random walks, and in particular, their first passage times, are ubiquitous in nature. Using direct enumeration of paths, we find the first-return-time distribution of a one-dimensional random walker, which is a heavy-tailed distribution with infinite mean. Using the same method, we find the last-return-time distribution, which follows the arcsine law. Both results have a broad range of applications in physics and other disciplines. The derivation presented here is readily accessible to physics undergraduates and provides an elementary introduction into random walks and their intriguing properties.

Pages