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Open Access Research article

Robust dynamical pattern formation from a multifunctional minimal genetic circuit

Guillermo Rodrigo12, Javier Carrera123, Santiago F Elena14 and Alfonso Jaramillo25*

Author Affiliations

1 Instituto de Biología Molecular y Celular de Plantas, CSIC-UPV, 46022 Valencia, Spain

2 Synth-Bio group. Epigenomics Project, Genopole-Université Évry Val d'Essonne-CNRS UPS3201, 91034 Évry Cedex, France

3 Instituto ITACA, Universidad Politécnica de Valencia, 46022 Valencia, Spain

4 Santa Fe Institute, Santa Fe, NM 87501, USA

5 Ecole Polytechnique, Laboratoire de Biochimie, 91128 Palaiseau Cedex, France

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BMC Systems Biology 2010, 4:48  doi:10.1186/1752-0509-4-48

Published: 22 April 2010



A practical problem during the analysis of natural networks is their complexity, thus the use of synthetic circuits would allow to unveil the natural mechanisms of operation. Autocatalytic gene regulatory networks play an important role in shaping the development of multicellular organisms, whereas oscillatory circuits are used to control gene expression under variable environments such as the light-dark cycle.


We propose a new mechanism to generate developmental patterns and oscillations using a minimal number of genes. For this, we design a synthetic gene circuit with an antagonistic self-regulation to study the spatio-temporal control of protein expression. Here, we show that our minimal system can behave as a biological clock or memory, and it exhibites an inherent robustness due to a quorum sensing mechanism. We analyze this property by accounting for molecular noise in an heterogeneous population. We also show how the period of the oscillations is tunable by environmental signals, and we study the bifurcations of the system by constructing different phase diagrams.


As this minimal circuit is based on a single transcriptional unit, it provides a new mechanism based on post-translational interactions to generate targeted spatio-temporal behavior.