Date of Award

5-2011

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

Physics

Major Professor

Michael L. Simpson

Committee Members

Robert N. Compton, Hanno H. Weitering, Zhenyu Zhang, John F. Cooke, Michael L. Simpson, Chris D. Cox

Abstract

The methods that fueled the microscale revolution (top-down design/fabrication, combined with application of forces large enough to overpower stochasticity) constitute an approach that will not scale down to nanoscale systems. In contrast, in nanotechnology, we strive to embrace nature’s quite different paradigms to create functional systems, such as self-assembly to create structures, exploiting stochasticity, rather than overwhelming it, in order to create deterministic, yet highly adaptable, behavior. Nature’s approach, through billions of years of evolutionary development, has achieved self-assembling, self-duplicating, self-healing, adaptive systems. Compared to microprocessors, nature’s approach has achieved eight orders of magnitude higher memory density and three orders of magnitude higher computing capacity while utilizing eight orders of magnitude less power. Perhaps the most complex of functions, homeostatis by a biological cell – i.e., the regulation of its internal environment to maintain stability and function – in a fluctuating and unpredictable environment, emerges from the interactions between perhaps 50M molecules of a few thousand different types. Many of these molecules (e.g. proteins, RNA) are produced in the stochastic processes of gene expression, and the resulting populations of these molecules are distributed across a range of values. So although homeostasis is maintained at the system (i.e. cell) level, there are considerable and unavoidable fluctuations at the component (protein, RNA) level. While on at least some level, we understand the variability in individual components, we have no understanding of how to integrate these fluctuating components together to achieve complex function at the system level. This thesis will explore the regulation and control of stochasticity in cells. In particular, the focus will be on (1) how genetic circuits use noise to generate more function in less space; (2) how stochastic and deterministic responses are co-regulated to enhance function at a system level; and (3) the development of high-throughput analytical techniques that enable a comprehensive view of the structure and distribution of noise on a whole organism level.

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