Robustness and Evolvability in Synthetic Gene Circuits

Mary Dunlop, California Institute of Technology

Compare two possible goals a cell may have: First, a cell may wish to rigorously maintain its behavior in response to an input, regardless of small mutations in its genetic structure. Robust cells are more reliable in the face of genetic variation. Alternatively, a cell may wish to exploit minor genetic modifications to evolve to an entirely new function – possibly better, possibly worse than the original. Evolvable cells are capable of adapting to new situations with ease.


My work tests and contrasts how “evolvable” or “robust” simple synthetic genetic regulatory structures are through experiments and computational modeling. Synthetic (not naturally occurring) circuits are built into E. coli bacteria. We study the results of mutations on the cell. Does the circuit preserve its function, indicating robust behavior, or does the behavior change, indicating evolvable behavior?

Abstract Author(s): Mary J. Dunlop