Design principles

of biological circuits

Cells are constantly "making decisions" - monitoring their environment, modulating their metabolism and 'deciding' whether to divide, differentiate or die. For this, they use biochemical circuits composed of interacting genes and proteins. Advances over the past decades have mapped many of these circuits. Still, can we infer the underlying logic from the detailed circuit structure? Can we deduce the selection forces that shaped these circuits during evolution? What are the principles that govern the design and function of these circuits and how similar or different are they from principles that guide the design of man-made machines? The interplay between variability and robustness is a hallmark of biological computation: Biological systems are inherently noisy, yet control their behavior precisely. Research projects in our lab quantify biological variability and identify its genetic origins, examine how variability is buffered by molecular circuits and investigate whether variability can in fact be employed to improve cellular computation. We encourage a multi-disciplinary approach, combining wet-lab experiments, dynamic-system theory and computational data analysis. This is achieved through fruitful interactions between students with backgrounds in physics, biology, computer science, mathematics and chemistry.

Naama Barkai Lab


Department of Molecular Genetics

Weizmann Institute of Science


Featured Article




Intrinsically Disordered Regions Direct Transcription Factor In Vivo Binding Specificity

Sagie Brodsky*, Tamar Jana*, Karin Mittelman, Michal Chapal, Divya Krishna Kumar, Miri Carmi, Naama Barkai

Molecular Cell (2020) | PDF

Transcription factors (TFs) that bind common DNA motifs in vitro occupy distinct sets of promoters in vivo, raising the question of how binding specificity is achieved. TFs are enriched with intrinsically disordered regions (IDRs). Such regions commonly form promiscuous interactions, yet their unique properties might also benefit specific binding-site selection. We examine this using Msn2 and Yap1, TFs of distinct families that contain long IDRs outside their DNA-binding domains. We find that these IDRs are both necessary and sufficient for localizing to the majority of target promoters. This IDR-directed binding does not depend on any localized domain but results from a multitude of weak determinants distributed throughout the entire IDR sequence. Furthermore, IDR specificity is conserved between distant orthologs, suggesting direct interaction with multiple promoters. We propose that distribution of sensing determinants along extended IDRs accelerates binding-site detection by rapidly localizing TFs to broad DNA regions surrounding these sites

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Meyer bulding 404
Weizmann Institute of Science
Rehovot 76100

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