Memorias de investigación
Oscillatory genetic circuits: new designs and mathematical models

Research Areas
  • Artificial intelligence (neuronal nets, expert systems, etc)

A wide variety of organisms have developed in-ternal biomolecular clocks in order to adapt to cyclic changes of the environment. Clock operation involves genetic networks. These genetic networks have to be mod¬eled in order to understand the underlying mechanism of oscillations and to design new synthetic cellular clocks. This doctoral thesis has resulted in two contributions to the fields of genetic clocks and systems and synthetic biology, generally. The first contribution is a new genetic circuit model that exhibits an oscillatory behav¬ior through catalytic RNA molecules. The second and major contribution is a new genetic circuit model demonstrating that a repressor molecule acting on the positive feedback of a self-activating gene produces reliable oscillations. First contribution: A new model of a synthetic genetic oscillator based on a typical two-gene motif with one positive and one negative feedback loop is pre¬sented. The originality is that the repressor is a catalytic RNA molecule rather than a protein or a non-catalytic RNA molecule. This catalytic RNA is a ribozyme that acts post-transcriptionally by binding to and cleaving target mRNA molecules. This genetic clock involves just two genes, a mRNA and an activator protein, apart from the ribozyme. Parameter values that produce a circadian period in both determin¬istic and stochastic simulations have been chosen as an example of clock operation. The effects of the stochastic fluctuations are quantified by a period histogram and autocorrelation function. The conclusion is that catalytic RNA molecules can act as repressor proteins and simplify the design of genetic oscillators. Second and major contribution: It is demonstrated that a self-activating gene in conjunction with a simple negative interaction can easily produce robust matically validated. This model is comprised of two clearly distinct parts. The first is a positive feedback created by a protein that binds to the promoter of its own gene and activates the transcription. The second is a negative interaction in which a repressor molecule prevents this protein from binding to its promoter. A stochastic study shows that the system is robust to noise. A deterministic study identifies that the oscillator dynamics are mainly driven by two types of biomolecules: the protein, and the complex formed by the repressor and this protein. The main conclusion of this study is that a simple and usual negative interaction, such as degradation, se¬questration or inhibition, acting on the positive transcriptional feedback of a single gene is a sufficient condition to produce reliable oscillations. One gene is enough and the positive transcriptional feedback signal does not need to activate a second repressor gene. At the genetic level, this means that an explicit negative feedback loop is not necessary. Unlike many genetic oscillators, this model needs neither cooperative binding reactions nor the formation of protein multimers. Applications and future research directions: Recently, RNA molecules have been found to play many new catalytic roles. The first oscillatory genetic model proposed in this thesis uses ribozymes as repressor molecules. This could provide new synthetic biology design principles and a better understanding of cel¬lular clocks regulated by RNA molecules. The second genetic model proposed here involves only a repression acting on a self-activating gene and produces robust oscil¬lations. Unlike current two-gene oscillators, this model surprisingly does not require a second repressor gene. This result could help to clarify the design principles of cellular clocks and constitute a new efficient tool for engineering synthetic genetic oscillators. Possible follow-on research directions are: validate models in vivo and in vitro, research the potential of second model as a genetic memory, investigate new genetic oscillators regulated by non-coding RNAs and design a biosensor of positive feedbacks in gene networks.
Mark Rating
Sobresaliente cum laude

Research Group, Departaments and Institutes related
  • Creador: Grupo de Investigación: Grupo de Inteligencia Artificial (LIA)
  • Departamento: Inteligencia Artificial