Context-dependent stability and robustness of genetic toggle switches with leaky promoters

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Multistable switches are ubiquitous building blocks in both systems and synthetic biology. Given their central role, it is thus imperative to understand how their fundamental properties depend not only on the tunable biophysical properties of the switches themselves, but also on their genetic context. To this end, we reveal in this article how these factors shape the essential characteristics of toggle switches implemented using leaky promoters such as their stability and robustness to noise, both at single-cell and population levels. In particular, our results expose the roles that competition for scarce transcriptional and translational resources, promoter leakiness, and cell-to-cell heterogeneity collectively play. For instance, the interplay between protein expression from leaky promoters and the associated cost of relying on shared cellular resources can give rise to tristable dynamics even in the absence of positive feedback. Similarly, we demonstrate that while promoter leakiness always acts against multistability, resource competition can be leveraged to counteract this undesirable phenomenon. Underpinned by a mechanistic model, our results thus enable the context-aware rational design of multistable genetic switches that are directly translatable to experimental considerations, and can be further leveraged during the synthesis of large-scale genetic systems using computer-aided biodesign automation platforms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1150
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2021


  • Context-dependence
  • Genetic switch
  • Leaky promoter
  • Multistability
  • Robustness
  • Scarce resources

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Palaeontology


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