Circuit topology and the evolution of robustness in two-gene circadian oscillators
Many parameters driving the behavior of biochemical circuits vary extensively and are thus not fine-tuned. Therefore, the topology of such circuits (the who-interacts-with-whom) is key to understanding their central properties. I here explore several hundred different topologies of a simple biochemical model of circadian oscillations to ask two questions: Do different circuits differ dramatically in their robustness to parameter change? If so, can a process of gradual molecular evolution find highly robust topologies when starting from less robust topologies? I find that the distribution of robustness among different circuit topologies is highly skewed: Most show low robustness, whereas very few topologies are highly robust. To address the second evolutionary question, I define a topology graph, each of whose nodes corresponds to one circuit topology that shows circadian oscillations. Two nodes in this graph are connected if they differ by only one regulatory interaction within the circuit. For the circadian oscillator I study, most topologies are connected in this graph, making evolutionary transitions from low to high robustness easy. A similar approach has been used to study the evolution of robustness in biological macromolecules, with similar results. This suggests that the same principles govern the evolution of robustness on different levels of biological organization. The regulatory interlocking of several oscillating gene products in biological circadian oscillators may exist because it provides robustness.