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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