Cellular noise

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Extrinsic and intrinsic noise in cellular biology.svg
Modelling stochastic gene expression.svg

Cellular noise refers to the random fluctuations and variability in cellular processes, which can occur at various levels, including gene expression, protein levels, and metabolic activity. This phenomenon is a fundamental aspect of cell biology and systems biology, influencing the behavior and fate of cells in both unicellular and multicellular organisms. Understanding cellular noise has significant implications for fields such as genetics, developmental biology, and synthetic biology, as it affects the precision and reliability of cellular functions, the development of organisms, and the design of synthetic biological systems.

Overview[edit | edit source]

Cellular noise arises from the inherent stochasticity (randomness) of biochemical processes, such as the transcription and translation of genes, the binding of enzymes to substrates, and the diffusion of molecules within the cell. These processes are subject to random fluctuations due to the low number of molecules involved, leading to variability in the cellular phenotype even among genetically identical cells in the same environment.

Types of Cellular Noise[edit | edit source]

Cellular noise can be broadly classified into two types: intrinsic and extrinsic noise.

  • Intrinsic noise refers to variability that arises from the stochastic nature of biochemical processes within a cell. This includes randomness in gene expression due to the probabilistic binding of transcription factors to DNA and the random collision of enzymes and substrates.
  • Extrinsic noise is variability that originates from fluctuations in the cell's environment or differences in the cellular components, such as variations in the number of ribosomes or differences in the local concentration of signaling molecules.

Impact of Cellular Noise[edit | edit source]

The presence of cellular noise can have both beneficial and detrimental effects on organisms. On one hand, noise can generate phenotypic variability among cells, providing a basis for evolutionary adaptation and cell differentiation. On the other hand, excessive noise can disrupt cellular functions, leading to diseases such as cancer or developmental disorders.

Regulation of Cellular Noise[edit | edit source]

Cells have evolved mechanisms to regulate and mitigate the effects of noise. These include feedback control systems that stabilize gene expression, the use of molecular chaperones to assist in protein folding, and the spatial organization of the cell to reduce variability in molecule concentrations.

Research and Applications[edit | edit source]

Research into cellular noise involves both experimental and computational approaches, including the use of fluorescent reporters to measure gene expression in single cells and mathematical models to simulate the stochastic processes underlying noise. Understanding cellular noise has applications in the development of more robust synthetic biological circuits, the design of therapies that target the variability in cancer cells, and the improvement of stem cell differentiation protocols.

See Also[edit | edit source]

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Contributors: Prab R. Tumpati, MD