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Self-driven phase transitions in living matter

Shaevitz The soil dwelling bacterium Myxococcus xanthus is an amazing organism that uses collective motility to hunt in giant packs when near prey and to form beautiful and protective macroscopic structures comprising millions of cells when food is scarce. I will present an overview of how these cells move and how they regulate that motion to produce different phases of collective behavior. Inspired by recent work on of active matter and the physics liquid crystals, I will discuss experiments that reveal how these cells generate nematic order, how defect structure can dictate global behavior, and how they actively tune the Péclet number of the population to drive a phase transition from a gas-like flocking state to an aggregated liquid-droplet state during starvation.