The mechanisms underlying complex biological systems are routinely represented as networks. Network kinetics is widely studied, and so is the connection between network structure and behavior. However, similarity of mechanism is better revealed by relationships between network structures.
We present a formal calculus, termed the chemtainer calculus, able to capture the complexity of compartmentalized reaction systems such as populations of possibly nested vesicular compartments. Compartments contain molecular cargo as well as surface markers in the form of DNA single strands. These markers serve as compartment addresses and allow for their targeted transport and fusion, thereby enabling reactions of previously separated chemicals. The overall system organization allows for the set-up of programmable chemistry in microfluidic or other automated environments. We introduce a simple sequential programming language whose instructions are motivated by state-of-the-art microfluidic technology. Our approach integrates electronic control, chemical computing and material production in a unified formal framework that is able to mimic the integrated computational and constructive capabilities of the subcellular matrix. We provide a non-deterministic semantics of our programming language that enables us to analytically derive the computational and constructive power of our machinery. This semantics is used to derive the sets of all constructable chemicals and supermolecular structures that emerge from different underlying instruction sets. Because our proofs are constructive, they can be used to automatically infer control programs for the construction of target structures from a limited set of resource molecules. Finally, we present an example of our framework from the area of oligosaccharide synthesis.
Precise description of the dynamics of biological processes would enable the mathematical analysis and computational simulation of complex biological phenomena. Languages such as Chemical Reaction Networks and Process Algebras cater for the detailed description of interactions among individuals and for the simulation and analysis of ensuing behaviors of populations. However, often knowledge of such interactions is lacking or not available. Yet complete oblivion to the environment would make the description of any biological process vacuous. Here we present a language for describing population dynamics that abstracts away detailed interaction among individuals, yet captures in broad terms the effect of the changing environment, based on environment-dependent Stochastic Tree Grammars (eSTG). It is comprised of a set of stochastic tree grammar transition rules, which are context-free and as such abstract away specific interactions among individuals. Transition rule probabilities and rates, however, can depend on global parameters such as population size, generation count, and elapsed time.
Achieving a complete understanding of cellular signal transduction requires deciphering the relation between structural and biochemical features of a signaling system and the shape of the signal-response relationship it embeds. Using explicit analytical expressions and numerical simulations, we present here this relation for four-layered phosphorelays, which are signaling systems that are ubiquitous in prokaryotes and also found in lower eukaryotes and plants. We derive an analytical expression that relates the shape of the signal-response relationship in a relay to the kinetic rates of forward, reverse phosphorylation and hydrolysis reactions. This reveals a set of mathematical conditions which, when satisfied, dictate the shape of the signal-response relationship. We find that a specific topology also observed in nature can satisfy these conditions in such a way to allow plasticity among hyperbolic and sigmoidal signal-response relationships. Particularly, the shape of the signal-response relationship of this relay topology can be tuned by altering kinetic rates and total protein levels at different parts of the relay. These findings provide an important step towards predicting response dynamics of phosphorelays, and the nature of subsequent physiological responses that they mediate, solely from topological features and few composite measurements; measuring the ratio of reverse and forward phosphorylation rate constants could be sufficient to determine the shape of the signal-response relationship the relay exhibits. Furthermore, they highlight the potential ways in which selective pressures on signal processing could have played a role in the evolution of the observed structural and biochemical characteristic in phosphorelays.
Biological organisms use complex molecular networks to navigate their environment and regulate their internal state. The development of synthetic systems with similar capabilities could lead to applications such as smart therapeutics or fabrication methods based on self-organization. To achieve this, molecular control circuits need to be engineered to perform integrated sensing, computation and actuation. Here we report a DNA-based technology for implementing the computational core of such controllers. We use the formalism of chemical reaction networks as a programming language and our DNA architecture can, in principle, implement any behaviour that can be mathematically expressed as such. Unlike logic circuits, our formulation naturally allows complex signal processing of intrinsically analogue biological and chemical inputs. Controller components can be derived from biologically synthesized (plasmid) DNA, which reduces errors associated with chemically synthesized DNA. We implement several building-block reaction types and then combine them into a network that realizes, at the molecular level, an algorithm used in distributed control systems for achieving consensus between multiple agents.
DNA strand displacement techniques have been used to implement a broad range of information processing devices, from logic gates, to chemical reaction networks, to architectures for universal computation. Strand displacement techniques enable computational devices to be implemented in DNA without the need for additional components, allowing computation to be programmed solely in terms of nucleotide sequences. A major challenge in the design of strand displacement devices has been to enable rapid analysis of high-level designs while also supporting detailed simulations that include known forms of interference. Another challenge has been to design devices capable of sustaining precise reaction kinetics over long periods, without relying on complex experimental equipment to continually replenish depleted species over time. In this paper, we present a programming language for designing DNA strand displacement devices, which supports progressively increasing levels of molecular detail. The language allows device designs to be programmed using a common syntax and then analysed at varying levels of detail, with or without interference, without needing to modify the program. This allows a trade-off to be made between the level of molecular detail and the computational cost of analysis. We use the language to design a buffered architecture for DNA devices, capable of maintaining precise reaction kinetics for a potentially unbounded period. We test the effectiveness of buffered gates to support long-running computation by designing a DNA strand displacement system capable of sustained oscillations.
Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC) class I molecules enable cytotoxic T lymphocytes to destroy virus-infected or cancerous cells, thereby preventing disease progression. MHC class I molecules provide a snapshot of the contents of a cell by binding to protein fragments arising from intracellular protein turnover and presenting these fragments at the cell surface. Competing fragments (peptides) are selected for cell-surface presentation on the basis of their ability to form a stable complex with MHC class I, by a process known as peptide optimization. A better understanding of the optimization process is important for our understanding of immunodominance, the predominance of some T lymphocyte specificities over others, which can determine the efficacy of an immune response, the danger of immune evasion, and the success of vaccination strategies. In this paper we present a dynamical systems model of peptide optimization by MHC class I. We incorporate the chaperone molecule tapasin, which has been shown to enhance peptide optimization to different extents for different MHC class I alleles. Using a combination of published and novel experimental data to parameterize the model, we arrive at a relation of peptide filtering, which quantifies peptide optimization as a function of peptide supply and peptide unbinding rates. From this relation, we find that tapasin enhances peptide unbinding to improve peptide optimization without significantly delaying the transit of MHC to the cell surface, and differences in peptide optimization across MHC class I alleles can be explained by allele-specific differences in peptide binding. Importantly, our filtering relation may be used to dynamically predict the cell surface abundance of any number of competing peptides by MHC class I alleles, providing a quantitative basis to investigate viral infection or disease at the cellular level. We exemplify this by simulating optimization of the distribution of peptides derived from Human Immunodeficiency Virus Gag-Pol polyprotein.
Phosphorelays are extended two-component signalling systems found in diverse bacteria, lower eukaryotes and plants. Only few of these systems are characterized, and we still lack a full understanding of their signalling abilities. Here, we aim to achieve a global understanding of phosphorelay signalling and its dynamical properties. We develop a generic model, allowing us to systematically analyse response dynamics under different assumptions. Using this model, we find that the steady-state concentration of phosphorylated protein at the final layer of a phosphorelay is a linearly increasing, but eventually saturating function of the input. In contrast, the intermediate layers can display ultrasensitivity. We find that such ultrasensitivity is a direct result of the phosphorelay biochemistry; shuttling of a single phosphate group from the first to the last layer. The response dynamics of the phosphorelay results in tolerance of cross-talk, especially when it occurs as cross-deactivation. Further, it leads to a high signal-to-noise ratio for the final layer. We find that a relay length of four, which is most commonly observed, acts as a saturating point for these dynamic properties. These findings suggest that phosphorelays could act as a mechanism to reduce noise and effects of cross-talk on the final layer of the relay and enforce its input-response relation to be linear. In addition, our analysis suggests that middle layers of phosphorelays could embed thresholds. We discuss the consequence of these findings in relation to why cells might use phosphorelays along with enzymatic kinase cascades.
The epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) signaling pathway plays a key role in regulation of cellular growth and development. While highly studied, it is still not fully understood how the signal is orchestrated. One of the reasons for the complexity of this pathway is the extensive network of inter-connected components involved in the signaling. In the aim of identifying critical mechanisms controlling signal transduction we have performed extensive analysis of an executable model of the EGFR pathway using the stochastic pi-calculus as a modeling language.
Recently, a range of information-processing circuits have been implemented in DNA by using strand displacement as their main computational mechanism. Examples include digital logic circuits and catalytic signal amplification circuits that function as efficient molecular detectors. As new paradigms for DNA computation emerge, the development of corresponding languages and tools for these paradigms will help to facilitate the design of DNA circuits and their automatic compilation to nucleotide sequences. We present a programming language for designing and simulating DNA circuits in which strand displacement is the main computational mechanism. The language includes basic elements of sequence domains, toeholds and branch migration, and assumes that strands do not possess any secondary structure. The language is used to model and simulate a variety of circuits, including an entropy-driven catalytic gate, a simple gate motif for synthesizing large-scale circuits and a scheme for implementing an arbitrary system of chemical reactions. The language is a first step towards the design of modelling and simulation tools for DNA strand displacement, which complements the emergence of novel implementation strategies for DNA computing.
Both computational and biological systems have to make decisions about switching from one state to another. The Approximate Majority computational algorithm provides the asymptotically fastest way to reach a common decision by all members of a population between two possible outcomes, where the decision approximately matches the initial relative majority. The network that regulates the mitotic entry of the cell-cycle in eukaryotes also makes a decision before it induces early mitotic processes. Here we show that the switch from inactive to active forms of the mitosis promoting Cyclin Dependent Kinases is driven by a system that is related to both the structure and the dynamics of the Approximate Majority computation. We investigate the behavior of these two switches by deterministic, stochastic and probabilistic methods and show that the steady states and temporal dynamics of the two systems are similar and they are exchangeable as components of oscillatory networks.
DNA replication, mitosis and mitotic exit are critical transitions of the cell cycle which normally occur only once per cycle. A universal control mechanism was proposed for the regulation of mitotic entry in which Cdk helps its own activation through two positive feedback loops. Recent discoveries in various organisms showed the importance of positive feedbacks in other transitions as well. Here we investigate if a universal control system with transcriptional regulation(s) and post-translational positive feedback(s) can be proposed for the regulation of all cell cycle transitions. Through computational modeling, we analyze the transition dynamics in all possible combinations of transcriptional and post-translational regulations. We find that some combinations lead to sloppy transitions, while others give very precise control. The periodic transcriptional regulation through the activator or the inhibitor leads to radically different dynamics. Experimental evidence shows that in cell cycle transitions of organisms investigated for cell cycle dependent periodic transcription, only the inhibitor OR the activator is under cyclic control and never both of them. Based on these observations, we propose two transcriptional control modes of cell cycle regulation that either STOP or let the cycle GO in case of a transcriptional failure. We discuss the biological relevance of such differences.
Designing correct, robust DNA devices is difficult because of the many possibilities for unwanted interference between molecules in the system. DNA strand displacement has been proposed as a design paradigm for DNA devices, and the DNA strand displacement (DSD) programming language has been developed as a means of formally programming and analysing these devices to check for unwanted interference. We demonstrate, for the first time, the use of probabilistic verification techniques to analyse the correctness, reliability and performance of DNA devices during the design phase. We use the probabilistic model checker prism, in combination with the DSD language, to design and debug DNA strand displacement components and to investigate their kinetics. We show how our techniques can be used to identify design flaws and to evaluate the merits of contrasting design decisions, even on devices comprising relatively few inputs. We then demonstrate the use of these components to construct a DNA strand displacement device for approximate majority voting. Finally, we discuss some of the challenges and possible directions for applying these methods to more complex designs.
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