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


Measurement of histone replacement dynamics with genetically encoded exchange timers in yeast

Gilad Yaakov, Felix Jonas & Naama Barkai

Nature Biotechnology (2021) | PDF

Histone exchange between histones carrying position-specific marks and histones bearing general marks is important for gene regulation, but understanding of histone exchange remains incomplete. To overcome the poor time resolution of conventional pulse–chase histone labeling, we present a genetically encoded histone exchange timer sensitive to the duration that two tagged histone subunits co-reside at an individual genomic locus. We apply these sensors to map genome-wide patterns of histone exchange in yeast using single samples. Comparing H3 exchange in cycling and G1-arrested cells suggests that replication-independent H3 exchange occurs at several hundred nucleosomes (<1% of all nucleosomes) per minute, with a maximal rate at histone promoters. We observed substantial differences between the two nucleosome core subcomplexes: H2A-H2B subcomplexes undergo rapid transcription-dependent replacement within coding regions, whereas H3-H4 replacement occurs predominantly within promoter nucleosomes, in association with gene activation or repression. Our timers allow the in vivo study of histone exchange dynamics with minute time scale resolution.

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