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Based on extensive Monte Carlo simulations and analytical considerations we study the electrostatically driven adsorption of flexible polyelectrolyte chains onto charged Janus nanospheres. These net-neutral colloids are composed of two equally but oppositely charged hemispheres. The critical binding conditions for polyelectrolyte chains are analysed as function of the radius of the Janus particle and its surface charge density, as well as the salt concentration in the ambient solution. Specifically for the adsorption of finite-length polyelectrolyte chains onto Janus nanoparticles, we demonstrate that the critical adsorption conditions drastically differ when the size of the Janus particle or the screening length of the electrolyte are varied. We compare the scaling laws obtained for the adsorption–desorption threshold to the known results for uniformly charged spherical particles, observing significant disparities. We also contrast the changes to the polyelectrolyte chain conformations close to the surface of the Janus nanoparticles as compared to those for simple spherical particles. Finally, we discuss experimentally relevant physico-chemical systems for which our simulations results may become important. In particular, we observe similar trends with polyelectrolyte complexation with oppositely but heterogeneously charged proteins.

We study the diffusion of a tracer particle, which moves in continuum space between a lattice of excluded volume, immobile non-inert obstacles. In particular, we analyse how the strength of the tracer–obstacle interactions and the volume occupancy of the crowders alter the diffusive motion of the tracer. From the details of partitioning of the tracer diffusion modes between trapping states when bound to obstacles and bulk diffusion, we examine the degree of localisation of the tracer in the lattice of crowders. We study the properties of the tracer diffusion in terms of the ensemble and time averaged mean squared displacements, the trapping time distributions, the amplitude variation of the time averaged mean squared displacements, and the non-Gaussianity parameter of the diffusing tracer. We conclude that tracer–obstacle adsorption and binding triggers a transient anomalous diffusion. From a very narrow spread of recorded individual time averaged trajectories we exclude continuous type random walk processes as the underlying physical model of the tracer diffusion in our system. For moderate tracer–crowder attraction the motion is found to be fully ergodic, while at stronger attraction strength a transient disparity between ensemble and time averaged mean squared displacements occurs. We also put our results into perspective with findings from experimental single-particle tracking and simulations of the diffusion of tagged tracers in dense crowded suspensions. Our results have implications for the diffusion, transport, and spreading of chemical components in highly crowded environments inside living cells and other structured liquids.

The looping of polymers such as DNA is a fundamental process in the molecular biology of living cells, whose interior is characterised by a high degree of molecular crowding. We here investigate in detail the looping dynamics of flexible polymer chains in the presence of different degrees of crowding. From the analysis of the looping–unlooping rates and the looping probabilities of the chain ends we show that the presence of small crowders typically slows down the chain dynamics but larger crowders may in fact facilitate the looping. We rationalise these non-trivial and often counterintuitive effects of the crowder size on the looping kinetics in terms of an effective solution viscosity and standard excluded volume. It is shown that for small crowders the effect of an increased viscosity dominates, while for big crowders we argue that confinement effects (caging) prevail. The tradeoff between both trends can thus result in the impediment or facilitation of polymer looping, depending on the crowder size. We also examine how the crowding volume fraction, chain length, and the attraction strength of the contact groups of the polymer chain affect the looping kinetics and hairpin formation dynamics. Our results are relevant for DNA looping in the absence and presence of protein mediation, DNA hairpin formation, RNA folding, and the folding of polypeptide chains under biologically relevant high-crowding conditions.

Molecular motors pulling cargos in the viscoelastic cytosol: how power strokes beat subdiffusion
(2014)

The discovery of anomalous diffusion of larger biopolymers and submicron tracers such as endogenous granules, organelles, or virus capsids in living cells, attributed to the viscoelastic nature of the cytoplasm, provokes the question whether this complex environment equally impacts the active intracellular transport of submicron cargos by molecular motors such as kinesins: does the passive anomalous diffusion of free cargo always imply its anomalously slow active transport by motors, the mean transport distance along microtubule growing sublinearly rather than linearly in time? Here we analyze this question within the widely used two-state Brownian ratchet model of kinesin motors based on the continuous-state diffusion along microtubules driven by a flashing binding potential, where the cargo particle is elastically attached to the motor. Depending on the cargo size, the loading force, the amplitude of the binding potential, the turnover frequency of the molecular motor enzyme, and the linker stiffness we demonstrate that the motor transport may turn out either normal or anomalous, as indeed measured experimentally. We show how a highly efficient normal active transport mediated by motors may emerge despite the passive anomalous diffusion of the cargo, and study the intricate effects of the elastic linker. Under different, well specified conditions the microtubule-based motor transport becomes anomalously slow and thus significantly less efficient.

Anomalous diffusion is frequently described by scaled Brownian motion (SBM){,} a Gaussian process with a power-law time dependent diffusion coefficient. Its mean squared displacement is ?x2(t)? [similar{,} equals] 2K(t)t with K(t) [similar{,} equals] t[small alpha]-1 for 0 < [small alpha] < 2. SBM may provide a seemingly adequate description in the case of unbounded diffusion{,} for which its probability density function coincides with that of fractional Brownian motion. Here we show that free SBM is weakly non-ergodic but does not exhibit a significant amplitude scatter of the time averaged mean squared displacement. More severely{,} we demonstrate that under confinement{,} the dynamics encoded by SBM is fundamentally different from both fractional Brownian motion and continuous time random walks. SBM is highly non-stationary and cannot provide a physical description for particles in a thermalised stationary system. Our findings have direct impact on the modelling of single particle tracking experiments{,} in particular{,} under confinement inside cellular compartments or when optical tweezers tracking methods are used.

Probably no other field of statistical physics at the borderline of soft matter and biological physics has caused such a flurry of papers as polymer translocation since the 1994 landmark paper by Bezrukov, Vodyanoy, and Parsegian and the study of Kasianowicz in 1996. Experiments, simulations, and theoretical approaches are still contributing novel insights to date, while no universal consensus on the statistical understanding of polymer translocation has been reached. We here collect the published results, in particular, the famous–infamous debate on the scaling exponents governing the translocation process. We put these results into perspective and discuss where the field is going. In particular, we argue that the phenomenon of polymer translocation is non-universal and highly sensitive to the exact specifications of the models and experiments used towards its analysis.

Diffusion of finite-size particles in two-dimensional channels with random wall configurations
(2014)

Diffusion of chemicals or tracer molecules through complex systems containing irregularly shaped channels is important in many applications. Most theoretical studies based on the famed Fick–Jacobs equation focus on the idealised case of infinitely small particles and reflecting boundaries. In this study we use numerical simulations to consider the transport of finite-size particles through asymmetrical two-dimensional channels. Additionally, we examine transient binding of the molecules to the channel walls by applying sticky boundary conditions. We consider an ensemble of particles diffusing in independent channels, which are characterised by common structural parameters. We compare our results for the long-time effective diffusion coefficient with a recent theoretical formula obtained by Dagdug and Pineda [J. Chem. Phys., 2012, 137, 024107].

Modern microscopic techniques following the stochastic motion of labelled tracer particles have uncovered significant deviations from the laws of Brownian motion in a variety of animate and inanimate systems. Such anomalous diffusion can have different physical origins, which can be identified from careful data analysis. In particular, single particle tracking provides the entire trajectory of the traced particle, which allows one to evaluate different observables to quantify the dynamics of the system under observation. We here provide an extensive overview over different popular anomalous diffusion models and their properties. We pay special attention to their ergodic properties, highlighting the fact that in several of these models the long time averaged mean squared displacement shows a distinct disparity to the regular, ensemble averaged mean squared displacement. In these cases, data obtained from time averages cannot be interpreted by the standard theoretical results for the ensemble averages. Here we therefore provide a comparison of the main properties of the time averaged mean squared displacement and its statistical behaviour in terms of the scatter of the amplitudes between the time averages obtained from different trajectories. We especially demonstrate how anomalous dynamics may be identified for systems, which, on first sight, appear to be Brownian. Moreover, we discuss the ergodicity breaking parameters for the different anomalous stochastic processes and showcase the physical origins for the various behaviours. This Perspective is intended as a guidebook for both experimentalists and theorists working on systems, which exhibit anomalous diffusion.

We study the thermal Markovian diffusion of tracer particles in a 2D medium with spatially varying diffusivity D(r), mimicking recently measured, heterogeneous maps of the apparent diffusion coefficient in biological cells. For this heterogeneous diffusion process (HDP) we analyse the mean squared displacement (MSD) of the tracer particles, the time averaged MSD, the spatial probability density function, and the first passage time dynamics from the cell boundary to the nucleus. Moreover we examine the non-ergodic properties of this process which are important for the correct physical interpretation of time averages of observables obtained from single particle tracking experiments. From extensive computer simulations of the 2D stochastic Langevin equation we present an in-depth study of this HDP. In particular, we find that the MSDs along the radial and azimuthal directions in a circular domain obey anomalous and Brownian scaling, respectively. We demonstrate that the time averaged MSD stays linear as a function of the lag time and the system thus reveals a weak ergodicity breaking. Our results will enable one to rationalise the diffusive motion of larger tracer particles such as viruses or submicron beads in biological cells.