Introduction to focus issue: quantitative approaches to genetic networks

Chaos. 2013 Jun;23(2):025001. doi: 10.1063/1.4810923.


All cells of living organisms contain similar genetic instructions encoded in the organism's DNA. In any particular cell, the control of the expression of each different gene is regulated, in part, by binding of molecular complexes to specific regions of the DNA. The molecular complexes are composed of protein molecules, called transcription factors, combined with various other molecules such as hormones and drugs. Since transcription factors are coded by genes, cellular function is partially determined by genetic networks. Recent research is making large strides to understand both the structure and the function of these networks. Further, the emerging discipline of synthetic biology is engineering novel gene circuits with specific dynamic properties to advance both basic science and potential practical applications. Although there is not yet a universally accepted mathematical framework for studying the properties of genetic networks, the strong analogies between the activation and inhibition of gene expression and electric circuits suggest frameworks based on logical switching circuits. This focus issue provides a selection of papers reflecting current research directions in the quantitative analysis of genetic networks. The work extends from molecular models for the binding of proteins, to realistic detailed models of cellular metabolism. Between these extremes are simplified models in which genetic dynamics are modeled using classical methods of systems engineering, Boolean switching networks, differential equations that are continuous analogues of Boolean switching networks, and differential equations in which control is based on power law functions. The mathematical techniques are applied to study: (i) naturally occurring gene networks in living organisms including: cyanobacteria, Mycoplasma genitalium, fruit flies, immune cells in mammals; (ii) synthetic gene circuits in Escherichia coli and yeast; and (iii) electronic circuits modeling genetic networks using field-programmable gate arrays. Mathematical analyses will be essential for understanding naturally occurring genetic networks in diverse organisms and for providing a foundation for the improved development of synthetic genetic networks.

Publication types

  • Introductory Journal Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Gene Regulatory Networks*
  • Models, Genetic
  • Nonlinear Dynamics