Computer-assisted design for scaling up systems based on DNA reaction networks

J R Soc Interface. 2014 Jan 22;11(93):20131167. doi: 10.1098/rsif.2013.1167. Print 2014 Apr 6.


In the past few years, there have been many exciting advances in the field of molecular programming, reaching a point where implementation of non-trivial systems, such as neural networks or switchable bistable networks, is a reality. Such systems require nonlinearity, be it through signal amplification, digitalization or the generation of autonomous dynamics such as oscillations. The biochemistry of DNA systems provides such mechanisms, but assembling them in a constructive manner is still a difficult and sometimes counterintuitive process. Moreover, realistic prediction of the actual evolution of concentrations over time requires a number of side reactions, such as leaks, cross-talks or competitive interactions, to be taken into account. In this case, the design of a system targeting a given function takes much trial and error before the correct architecture can be found. To speed up this process, we have created DNA Artificial Circuits Computer-Assisted Design (DACCAD), a computer-assisted design software that supports the construction of systems for the DNA toolbox. DACCAD is ultimately aimed to design actual in vitro implementations, which is made possible by building on the experimental knowledge available on the DNA toolbox. We illustrate its effectiveness by designing various systems, from Montagne et al.'s Oligator or Padirac et al.'s bistable system to new and complex networks, including a two-bit counter or a frequency divider as well as an example of very large system encoding the game Mastermind. In the process, we highlight a variety of behaviours, such as enzymatic saturation and load effect, which would be hard to handle or even predict with a simpler model. We also show that those mechanisms, while generally seen as detrimental, can be used in a positive way, as functional part of a design. Additionally, the number of parameters included in these simulations can be large, especially in the case of complex systems. For this reason, we included the possibility to use CMA-ES, a state-of-the-art optimization algorithm that will automatically evolve parameters chosen by the user to try to match a specified behaviour. Finally, because all possible functionality cannot be captured by a single software, DACCAD includes the possibility to export a system in the synthetic biology markup language, a widely used language for describing biological reaction systems. DACCAD can be downloaded online at

Keywords: computer-assisted design; in silico to in vitro; molecular programming.

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms*
  • Computers, Molecular*
  • DNA*
  • Models, Theoretical*


  • DNA