Merrill E. Asp: 0000-0003-3812-2276

Minh-Tri Ho Thanh: 0000-0002-9380-0191

Roy D. Welch: 0000-0002-9946-108X

Alison E. Patteson: 0000-0002-4004-1734

Document Type



Spring 5-12-2023


Genetics, Living systems, Genomics, Bacteria, Biochemistry, Biofilms, Self assembly, Biomechanics, Genotypes, Microbiology




National Science Foundation

Funding ID

NSF MCB 2026747, NSF DEB 2033942, NSF MCB 1856665, NSF DMS-NIGMS 1903160


We thank P. Janmey and E. Caro for insightful discussions

Official Citation

Merrill E. Asp, Minh-Tri Ho Thanh, Subarna Dutta, Jessica A. Comstock, Roy D. Welch, Alison E. Patteson; Mechanobiology as a tool for addressing the genotype-to-phenotype problem in microbiology. Biophysics Rev. 1 June 2023; 4 (2): 021304. https://doi.org/10.1063/5.0142121




The central hypothesis of the genotype–phenotype relationship is that the phenotype of a developing organism (i.e., its set of observable attributes) depends on its genome and the environment. However, as we learn more about the genetics and biochemistry of living systems, our understanding does not fully extend to the complex multiscale nature of how cells move, interact, and organize; this gap in understanding is referred to as the genotype-to-phenotype problem. The physics of soft matter sets the background on which living organisms evolved, and the cell environment is a strong determinant of cell phenotype. This inevitably leads to challenges as the full function of many genes, and the diversity of cellular behaviors cannot be assessed without wide screens of environmental conditions. Cellular mechanobiology is an emerging field that provides methodologies to understand how cells integrate chemical and physical environmental stress and signals, and how they are transduced to control cell function. Biofilm forming bacteria represent an attractive model because they are fast growing, genetically malleable and can display sophisticated self-organizing developmental behaviors similar to those found in higher organisms. Here, we propose mechanobiology as a new area of study in prokaryotic systems and describe its potential for unveiling new links between an organism's genome and phenome.

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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