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

Document Type



Spring 3-28-2022


Natural materials, Polymers, Bioengineering, Living systems, Bacteria, Cell biology, Biofilms, Biomaterials, Review




U.S. National Institute of General Medical Sciences, U.S. National Science Foundation Center for Engineering Mechanobiology, Materials Research Science and Engineering Center

Funding ID

GM142963, GM136259, CMMI-154857, MCB 2026747, and DMR-1720530


We are grateful to Dr. Robert Bucki for help with the DNA network data shown in Fig. 2.

Official Citation

Alison E. Patteson, Merrill E. Asp, Paul A. Janmey; Materials science and mechanosensitivity of living matter. Appl. Phys. Rev. 1 March 2022; 9 (1): 011320. https://doi.org/10.1063/5.0071648




Living systems are composed of molecules that are synthesized by cells that use energy sources within their surroundings to create fascinating materials that have mechanical properties optimized for their biological function. Their functionality is a ubiquitous aspect of our lives. We use wood to construct furniture, bacterial colonies to modify the texture of dairy products and other foods, intestines as violin strings, bladders in bagpipes, and so on. The mechanical properties of these biological materials differ from those of other simpler synthetic elastomers, glasses, and crystals. Reproducing their mechanical properties synthetically or from first principles is still often unattainable. The challenge is that biomaterials often exist far from equilibrium, either in a kinetically arrested state or in an energy consuming active state that is not yet possible to reproduce de novo. Also, the design principles that form biological materials often result in nonlinear responses of stress to strain, or force to displacement, and theoretical models to explain these nonlinear effects are in relatively early stages of development compared to the predictive models for rubberlike elastomers or metals. In this Review, we summarize some of the most common and striking mechanical features of biological materials and make comparisons among animal, plant, fungal, and bacterial systems. We also summarize some of the mechanisms by which living systems develop forces that shape biological matter and examine newly discovered mechanisms by which cells sense and respond to the forces they generate themselves, which are resisted by their environment, or that are exerted upon them by their environment. Within this framework, we discuss examples of how physical methods are being applied to cell biology and bioengineering.

Creative Commons License

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


Published under an exclusive license by AIP Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1063/5.0071648

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