Noisy foresight

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Twenty years ago, I was just a boy with a crazy dream of building stochastic models of the noise affecting the expression of genes in living cells.

Back in the 90s this idea sounded like an heresy. The dominant paradigm of the time was to consider that gene regulation was a qualitative and deterministic process that could be best represented using Boolean models. Yet a number of theoretical considerations led a few people to predict that the small volume of living cells and the large size of the macromolecules involved in gene regulation processes should result in a noisy dynamics that would be best represented by stochastic models. This argument was first developed by Erwin Shrodinger in “What is life?“, a little gem of scientific literature.

The first article I published as an independent investigator was a very simple model of gene expression entitled “Markovian Modeling of Gene Product Synthesis“. My collaborator Bernard Ycart suggested that we sent the manuscript to an obscure journal that I had never heard of, Theoretical Population Biology. This article got pretty much ignored for 10 years but lately it has been picking up some steam. It finished 2015 with more citations than in any other year before and I am wondering when this article will peak. Screen Shot 2016-01-12 at 9.03.09 AM

Adam Arkin, Mike Elowitz, and others have done much more than me to characterize the noise affecting gene expression mechanisms. Still I am proud to have anticipated this upcoming change of scientific paradigm and I am happy to have the resources to combine experimental and computational efforts to better understand the physiology of noise in the control of cell division through our collaboration with John Tyson.