The technological revolution in biological research, and in particular the use of molecular fluorescent labels, has allowed investigation of heterogeneity of cellular responses to stimuli on the single cell level. Computational, theoretical, and synthetic biology advances have allowed predicting and manipulating this heterogeneity with an exquisite precision previously reserved only for physical sciences. Functionally, this cell-to-cell variability can compromise cellular responses to environmental signals, and it can also enlarge the repertoire of possible cellular responses and hence increase the adaptive nature of cellular behaviors. And yet quantification of the functional importance of this response heterogeneity remained elusive. Recently the mathematical language of information theory has been proposed to address this problem. This opinion reviews the recent advances and discusses the broader implications of using information-theoretic tools to characterize heterogeneity of cellular behaviors.
Copyright © 2014. Published by Elsevier Ltd.