Cellular decision making is the process whereby cells assume different, functionally important and heritable fates without an associated genetic or environmental difference. Such stochastic cell fate decisions generate nongenetic cellular diversity, which may be critical for metazoan development as well as optimized microbial resource utilization and survival in a fluctuating, frequently stressful environment. Here, we review several examples of cellular decision making from viruses, bacteria, yeast, lower metazoans, and mammals, highlighting the role of regulatory network structure and molecular noise. We propose that cellular decision making is one of at least three key processes underlying development at various scales of biological organization.
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