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Physical principles of sensory transduction

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The Activity of Living Matter

The ability to sense and respond to the environment is one of the main characteristics of living matter, and it is little surprise that sensory systems have evolved to be remarkably effective. Typically they are capable of detecting very weak signals that are almost lost in the noise, but can also handle stimuli whose intensities are many orders of magnitude stronger. This applies to complex senses such as hearing, but also to the detection of chemicals by lowly bacteria. I will discuss a common physical principle that appears to underlie signal detection in both of these cases: such sensory systems achieve their astonishing performance by poising themselves on the brink of an instability.

This talk is part of the Physics of Living Matter PLM6 series.

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