Building Predictive Models of Genetic Circuits Using the Principle of Maximum Caliber

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College of Natual Science and Mathematics, Physics and Astronomy


Learning the underlying details of a gene network is a major challenge in cellular and synthetic biology. We address this challenge by building a chemical kinetic model that utilizes information encoded in the stochastic protein expression trajectories typically measured in experiments. The applicability of the proposed method is demonstrated in an auto-activating genetic circuit, a common motif in natural and synthetic gene networks. Our approach is based on the principle of maximum caliber (MaxCal)—a dynamical analog of the principle of maximum entropy—and builds a minimal model using only three constraints: 1) protein synthesis, 2) protein degradation, and 3) positive feedback. The MaxCal-generated model (described with four parameters) was benchmarked against synthetic data generated using a Gillespie algorithm on a known reaction network (with seven parameters). MaxCal accurately predicts underlying rate parameters of protein synthesis and degradation as well as experimental observables such as protein number and dwell-time distributions. Furthermore, MaxCal yields an effective feedback parameter that can be useful for circuit design. We also extend our methodology and demonstrate how to analyze trajectories that are not in protein numbers but in arbitrary fluorescence units, a more typical condition in experiments. This “top-down” methodology based on minimal information—in contrast to traditional “bottom-up” approaches that require ad hoc knowledge of circuit details—provides a powerful tool to accurately infer underlying details of feedback circuits that are not otherwise visible in experiments and to help guide circuit design.

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