Bi/BE 250c Winter 2011

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Systems Biology


  • Michael Elowitz (Bi/BE)
  • Richard Murray (CDS/BE)
  • Lectures: Tu/Th, 1-2:30 pm, 151 Braun

Teaching Assistants

  • Vanessa Jonsson
  • Fiona Chandra

Course Description

The class will focus on quantitative studies of cellular and developmental systems in biology. It will examine the architecture of specific genetic circuits controlling microbial behaviors and multicellular development in model organisms. The course will approach most topics from both experimental and theoretical/computational perspectives. Specific topics include chemotaxis, multistability and differentiation, biological oscillations, stochastic effects in circuit operation, as well as higher-level circuit properties such as robustness. The course will also consider the organization of transcriptional and protein-protein interaction networks at the genomic scale.


  • 24 Oct 2010: web page creation


The primary text for the course (available via the online bookstore) is

 [Alon]  U. Alon, An Introduction to Systems Biology: Design Principles of Biological Circuits, CRC Press, 2006.

The following additional texts and notes may be useful for some students:

 [BFS]  D. Del Vecchio and R. M. Murray, Biomolecular Feedback Systems. Available online at
 [Klipp]  Edda Klipp, Wolfram Liebermeister, Christoph Wierling, Axel Kowald, Hans Lehrach, Ralf Herwig, Systems biology: a textbook. Wiley, 2009.

Lecture Schedule

Week Date Topic Reading Homework
1 4 Jan
6 Jan

Course overview; gene circuit dynamics
  • Core processes in cells
  • Modeling transcription, translation and regulation using ODEs
  • Negative auto-regulation

Recitation sections (TAs):

  • Ordinary differential equations
  • MATLAB tutorial
  • Alon, Ch 2: Transcription networks : basic concepts
  • BFS, Ch 2: Modeling of Core Processes
  • Alon, Ch 3: Autoregulation : a network motif
2 11 Jan
13 Jan

Circuit motifs
  • Finding "motifs"
  • Feedforward loops (FFLs)
  • SIMS and multi-output FFLs
  • Alon, Ch 4: The feed-forward loop network motif
  • Alon, Ch 5: Temporal programs and the global structure of transcription networks
  • Alon, Ch 6: Network motifs in developmental, signal transduction, and neuronal networks
3 18 Jan
20 Jan

Biological clocks: how to produce oscillations in cells
  • Synthetic oscillators (repressilator, dual-feedback oscillator)
  • Circadian clocks in cyanobacteria
  • Optional: plant clocks/circadian rhythm
4 25 Jan
27 Jan

  • Chemotaxis and perfect adaptation
  • Controls analysis of robustness
5 1 Feb
3 Feb

  • Random processes
  • Intrinsic and extrinsic noise
  • Stochastic modeling

Probabilistic differentiation (?)

6 8 Feb
10 Feb

Population dynamics and Evolution
7 15 Feb
17 Feb

Dynamic signal coding
  • PWM
  • FM
  • NFkB example
8 22 Feb
24 Feb

  • Morphogenesis
  • Robust morphagen gradient
  • Proportionality and scaling
9 1 Mar
3 Mar

Fine grain patterns
  • Lateral inhibition
  • Notch-delta
10 8 Mar

Epistasis and modularity
  • Flux balance analysis and yeast metabolism
  • Antibiotic interactions
  • Principle of monochroniticity (?)

Other possible topics (if time):

  • Population dynamics, infection dynamics (after week 5)
  • Signaling cascades (MAPK cascades) - after motifs
  • Data analysis (tutorial)?


The final grade will be based on biweekly homework sets. The homework will be due in class one week after they are assigned. Late homework will not be accepted without prior permission from the instructor.

The lowest homework score you receive will be dropped in computing your homework average. In addition, if your score on the final is higher than the weighted average of your homework and final, your final will be used to determine your course grade.

Collaboration Policy

Collaboration on homework assignments is encouraged. You may consult outside reference materials, other students, the TA, or the instructor. Use of solutions from previous years in the course is not allowed. All solutions that are handed should reflect your understanding of the subject matter at the time of writing.

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