Engineering self-organized criticality in living cells

Blai Vidiella, Antoni Guillamon, Josep Sardanyés, Victor Maull, Jordi Pla, Nuria Conde & Ricard Solé 

Nature Communications volume 12, Article number: 4415 (2021)

Complex dynamical fluctuations, from intracellular noise, brain dynamics or computer traffic display bursting dynamics consistent with a critical state between order and disorder. Living close to the critical point has adaptive advantages and it has been conjectured that evolution could select these critical states. Is this the case of living cells? A system can poise itself close to the critical point by means of the so-called self-organized criticality (SOC). In this paper we present an engineered gene network displaying SOC behaviour. This is achieved by exploiting the saturation of the proteolytic degradation machinery in E. coli cells by means of a negative feedback loop that reduces congestion. Our critical motif is built from a two-gene circuit, where SOC can be successfully implemented. The potential implications for both cellular dynamics and behaviour are discussed.

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