Intracellular Noise Level Determines Ratio Control Strategy Confined by Speed-Accuracy Trade-off

David Menn, Patrick Sochor, Hanah Goetz, Xiao Jun Tian, Xiao Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Robust and precise ratio control of heterogeneous phenotypes within an isogenic population is an essential task, especially in the development and differentiation of a large number of cells such as bacteria, sensory receptors, and blood cells. However, the mechanisms of such ratio control are poorly understood. Here, we employ experimental and mathematical techniques to understand the combined effects of signal induction and gene expression stochasticity on phenotypic multimodality. We identify two strategies to control phenotypic ratios from an initially homogeneous population, suitable roughly to high-noise and low-noise intracellular environments, and we show that both can be used to generate precise fractional differentiation. In noisy gene expression contexts, such as those found in bacteria, induction within the circuit's bistable region is enough to cause noise-induced bimodality within a feasible time frame. However, in less noisy contexts, such as tightly controlled eukaryotic systems, spontaneous state transitions are rare and hence bimodality needs to be induced with a controlled pulse of induction that falls outside the bistable region. Finally, we show that noise levels, system response time, and ratio tuning accuracy impose trade-offs and limitations on both ratio control strategies, which guide the selection of strategy alternatives.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1352-1360
Number of pages9
JournalACS Synthetic Biology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 21 2019


  • cell fate
  • fractional differentiation
  • ratio tuning
  • stochasticity
  • synthetic biology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology (miscellaneous)


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