Quantitative Biology

, Volume 6, Issue 1, pp 1–14 | Cite as

Systems and synthetic biology approaches in understanding biological oscillators

  • Zhengda Li
  • Qiong YangEmail author



Self-sustained oscillations are a ubiquitous and vital phenomenon in living systems. From primitive single-cellular bacteria to the most sophisticated organisms, periodicities have been observed in a broad spectrum of biological processes such as neuron firing, heart beats, cell cycles, circadian rhythms, etc. Defects in these oscillators can cause diseases from insomnia to cancer. Elucidating their fundamental mechanisms is of great significance to diseases, and yet challenging, due to the complexity and diversity of these oscillators.


Approaches in quantitative systems biology and synthetic biology have been most effective by simplifying the systems to contain only the most essential regulators. Here, we will review major progress that has been made in understanding biological oscillators using these approaches. The quantitative systems biology approach allows for identification of the essential components of an oscillator in an endogenous system. The synthetic biology approach makes use of the knowledge to design the simplest, de novo oscillators in both live cells and cell-free systems. These synthetic oscillators are tractable to further detailed analysis and manipulations.


With the recent development of biological and computational tools, both approaches have made significant achievements.


biological oscillators synthetic oscillators circuit design principles 



This work was supported by the National Science Foundation (Early CAREER Grant #1553031) and the National Institutes of Health (MIRA #GM119688).


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Copyright information

© Higher Education Press and Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of BiophysicsUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA
  2. 2.Department of Computational Medicine & BioinformaticsUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA

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