Thus, beyond the specific advance in this particular research, the team's ability to reduce millions of cellular responses to two common circuits lays the groundwork for similar analyses in other biological systems. Despite the diversity of possible biochemical networks, the team said, it may be common to find that only a finite set of core structures can execute a particular function.
"From a scientific standpoint, this is about one thing: Are there universal principles in biology, and if so, what are they," Tang said.
The potential applications from these studies could be tremendous: in medicine, an understanding of what causes a system to shift from one behavior to another could greatly aid in developing more targeted therapeutics for treatments of complex diseases like cancer, the researchers said.
Fundamentally, the complex network of homeostatic response is what makes these diseases so difficult to tackle therapeutically, according to the research team. If the entire network is out of balance, a drug that blocks a single receptor won't work. Identifying the core structures behind adaptive response, however, makes it possible to someday create a therapy that could readjust that network.
It also could have applications in the emerging field of synthetic biology, by serving as a manual for how to engineer robust biological circuits that carry out a target function.
The lead investigator on the paper was Wenzhe Ma, a visiting scholar in the Tang lab from the Center for Theoretical Biology, Peking University, Beijing, China. Co-authors were Ala Trusina, from the UCSF Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences, and Hana El-Samad, with the UCSF Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics. Both Lim and Tang have joint appointments in the UCSF Department of Bio
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