Propagating gene expression fronts in a one-dimensional coupled system of artificial cells

Alexandra M. Tayar, Eyal Karzbrun, Vincent Noireaux, Roy H. Bar-Ziv

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

60 Scopus citations


Living systems employ front propagation and spatiotemporal patterns encoded in biochemical reactions for communication, self-organization and computation. Emulating such dynamics in minimal systems is important for understanding physical principles in living cells and in vitro. Here, we report a one-dimensional array of DNA compartments in a silicon chip as a coupled system of artificial cells, offering the means to implement reaction-diffusion dynamics by integrated genetic circuits and chip geometry. Using a bistable circuit we programmed a front of protein synthesis propagating in the array as a cascade of signal amplification and short-range diffusion. The front velocity is maximal at a saddle-node bifurcation from a bistable regime with travelling fronts to a monostable regime that is spatially homogeneous. Near the bifurcation the system exhibits large variability between compartments, providing a possible mechanism for population diversity. This demonstrates that on-chip integrated gene circuits are dynamical systems driving spatiotemporal patterns, cellular variability and symmetry breaking.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1037-1041
Number of pages5
JournalNature Physics
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 1 2015

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank S. S. Daube for helpful discussions. V.N. thanks J. Garamella, R. Marshall and M. Rustad for technical help. This work was supported by: the Israel Science Foundation, the Minerva Foundation, and the Volkswagen Foundation (R.H.B.-Z.); the US–Israel Binational Science Foundation (R.H.B.-Z. and V.N.).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Macmillan Publishers Limited. All rights reserved.


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