Research article

Systems and Synthetic Biology

, Volume 1, Issue 2, pp 89-98

First online:

Designing sequential transcription logic: a simple genetic circuit for conditional memory

  • Georg FritzAffiliated withInstitute for Theoretical Physics, Universität zu KölnDepartment of Physics and CeNS, LMU München
  • , Nicolas E. BuchlerAffiliated withCenter for Studies in Physics and Biology, The Rockefeller University
  • , Terence HwaAffiliated withCenter for Theoretical Biological Physics and Physics Department, University of California at San Diego
  • , Ulrich GerlandAffiliated withInstitute for Theoretical Physics, Universität zu Köln Email author 

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The ability to learn and respond to recurrent events depends on the capacity to remember transient biological signals received in the past. Moreover, it may be desirable to remember or ignore these transient signals conditioned upon other signals that are active at specific points in time or in unique environments. Here, we propose a simple genetic circuit in bacteria that is capable of conditionally memorizing a signal in the form of a transcription factor concentration. The circuit behaves similarly to a “data latch” in an electronic circuit, i.e. it reads and stores an input signal only when conditioned to do so by a “read command.” Our circuit is of the same size as the well-known genetic toggle switch (an unconditional latch) which consists of two mutually repressing genes, but is complemented with a “regulatory front end” involving protein heterodimerization as a simple way to implement conditional control. Deterministic and stochastic analysis of the circuit dynamics indicate that an experimental implementation is feasible based on well-characterized genes and proteins. It is not known, to which extent molecular networks are able to conditionally store information in natural contexts for bacteria. However, our results suggest that such sequential logic elements may be readily implemented by cells through the combination of existing protein–protein interactions and simple transcriptional regulation.


Gene regulation Sequential logic Quantitative modeling Synthetic biology