Overall Objectives
Research Program
Application Domains
Highlights of the Year
New Software and Platforms
New Results
Partnerships and Cooperations
XML PDF e-pub
PDF e-Pub

Section: New Results

Balancing a genetic inverted pendulum

Participants : Grégory Batt, Pascal Hersen, Jean-Baptiste Lugagne, Jean-Baptiste Caron.

The ability to routinely control complex genetic circuits in vivo and in real-time promises quantitative understanding of cellular processes of unprecedented precision and quality. With combined efforts in microfluidic design, microscope automation, image analysis, modeling and control theory, we propose a platform for real-time, single-cell, in silico control of genetic networks in E. coli. The circuit we are trying to control is a genetic toggle switch, a foundational circuit in synthetic biology, which consists of two genes that repress each other. This genetic system features two stable equilibrium points where one of the genes has taken over. Our objective is to dynamically balance the circuit in single cells around a third, unstable equilibrium point at which no gene dominates and their mutual repression strengths are balanced. This is similar to the landmark problem in control theory of stabilizing an inverted pendulum in its upright position. Although our work indicates that this real-time control approach can drive convoluted genetic networks towards states that are inaccessible to traditional genetic perturbations such as knock-outs and promoter induction, the a priori quantitative knowledge of the system required for achieving this control is minimal. We show that even a simple Proportional-Integral controller can maintain in a balanced state the toggle switch in single cells. Finally, we demonstrate that similar results can be obtained by applying periodic inductions, identical to all cells in the population. Given the fact that all cells behave differently, this result was highly unexpected. It can however be understood as an example of dynamic stabilization, analogous to the solution proposed by Kapitza for the inverted pendulum.

These results are presented in the PhD thesis of Jean-Baptiste Lugagne [2].