Lenner N, Eule S, Großhans J, Wolf F
Mesoscopic bio-systems typically evolve towards functionally important target states, such as cell-cycle checkpoints or decision boundaries for the release of specific behaviors. For the data-driven inference of the underlying directional out-of-equilibrium dynamics, we here develop a theory of target state aligned (TSA) ensembles. Target state alignment allows to analyze directional dynamics in reverse time, starting from the final conditions of the forward process. Knowledge about the initial conditions of the forward process is not required for the analysis. Our theory reveals whether and when such a system can be represented by a single, effective stochastic equation of motion. We show how, in these effective dynamics, genuine biological forces can be separated from spurious forces, which invariably arise from target state alignment. We apply our inference scheme to the example of cytokinetic ring constriction, and derive the universal low-noise and short-term behavior of TSA ensembles. Our theory establishes a transparent mathematical foundation for the analysis and inference of directed biological dynamics by target state alignment.