Complex and unexpected dynamics in simple genetic regulatory networks

Yanika Borg*, Ekkehard Ullner, Afnan Alagha, Ahmed Alsaedi, Darren Nesbeth, Alexey Zaikin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalLiterature reviewpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
12 Downloads (Pure)


One aim of synthetic biology is to construct increasingly complex genetic networks from interconnected simpler ones to address challenges in medicine and biotechnology. However, as systems increase in size and complexity, emergent properties lead to unexpected and complex dynamics due to nonlinear and nonequilibrium properties from component interactions. We focus on four different studies of biological systems which exhibit complex and unexpected dynamics. Using simple synthetic genetic networks, small and large populations of phase-coupled quorum sensing repressilators, Goodwin oscillators, and bistable switches, we review how coupled and stochastic components can result in clustering, chaos, noise-induced coherence and speed-dependent decision making. A system of repressilators exhibits oscillations, limit cycles, steady states or chaos depending on the nature and strength of the coupling mechanism. In large repressilator networks, rich dynamics can also be exhibited, such as clustering and chaos. In populations of Goodwin oscillators, noise can induce coherent oscillations. In bistable systems, the speed with which incoming external signals reach steady state can bias the network towards particular attractors. These studies showcase the range of dynamical behavior that simple synthetic genetic networks can exhibit. In addition, they demonstrate the ability of mathematical modeling to analyze nonlinearity and inhomogeneity within these systems.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1430006
Number of pages34
JournalInternational Journal of Modern Physics B
Issue number14
Early online date25 Mar 2014
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jun 2014


  • synthetic biology
  • genetic regulatory networks
  • complex dynamics
  • mathematical modeling
  • repressilator
  • artificial cell differentiation
  • synchronization
  • noise
  • cellular decision making
  • coherence resonance
  • stochastic resonance
  • noisy precursors
  • oscillators
  • system
  • biology
  • instabilities
  • expression
  • gate


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