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Elucidating the genotype–phenotype map by automatic enumeration and analysis of the phenotypic repertoire



The gap between genotype and phenotype is filled by complex biochemical systems most of which are poorly understood. Because these systems are complex, it is widely appreciated that quantitative understanding can only be achieved with the aid of mathematical models. However, formulating models and measuring or estimating their numerous rate constants and binding constants is daunting. Here we present a strategy for automating difficult aspects of the process.


The strategy, based on a system design space methodology, is applied to a class of 16 designs for a synthetic gene oscillator that includes seven designs previously formulated on the basis of experimentally measured and estimated parameters.


Our strategy provides four important innovations by automating: (1) enumeration of the repertoire of qualitatively distinct phenotypes for a system; (2) generation of parameter values for any particular phenotype; (3) simultaneous realization of parameter values for several phenotypes to aid visualization of transitions from one phenotype to another, in critical cases from functional to dysfunctional; and (4) identification of ensembles of phenotypes whose expression can be phased to achieve a specific sequence of functions for rationally engineering synthetic constructs. Our strategy, applied to the 16 designs, reproduced previous results and identified two additional designs capable of sustained oscillations that were previously missed.


Starting with a system's relatively fixed aspects, its architectural features, our method enables automated analysis of nonlinear biochemical systems from a global perspective, without first specifying parameter values. The examples presented demonstrate the efficiency and power of this automated strategy.

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