Single and collective cellular oscillations driven by the actomyosin cytoskeleton have been observed in numerous biological systems. Here, we propose that these oscillations can be accounted for by a generic oscillator model of a material turning over and contracting against an elastic element. As an example, we show that during dorsal closure of the Drosophila embryo, experimentally observed changes in actomyosin concentration and oscillatory cell shape changes can, indeed, be captured by the dynamic equations studied here. We also investigate the collective dynamics of an ensemble of such contractile elements and show that the relative contribution of viscous and friction losses yields different regimes of collective oscillations. Taking into account the diffusion of force-producing molecules between contractile elements, our theoretical framework predicts the appearance of traveling waves, resembling the propagation of actomyosin waves observed during morphogenesis.
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