Design principles of a bacterial signalling network.
Cellular biochemical networks have to function in a noisy environment using imperfect components. In particular, networks involved in gene regulation or signal transduction allow only for small output tolerances, and the underlying network structures can be expected to have undergone evolution for inherent robustness against perturbations. Here we combine theoretical and experimental analyses to investigate an optimal design for the signalling network of bacterial chemotaxis, one of the most thoroughly studied signalling networks in biology. We experimentally determine the extent of intercellular variations in the expression levels of chemotaxis proteins and use computer simulations to quantify the robustness of several hypothetical chemotaxis pathway topologies to such gene expression noise. We demonstrate that among these topologies the experimentally established chemotaxis network of Escherichia coli has the smallest sufficiently robust network structure, allowing accurate chemotactic response for almost all individuals within a population. Our results suggest that this pathway has evolved to show an optimal chemotactic performance while minimizing the cost of resources associated with high levels of protein expression. Moreover, the underlying topological design principles compensating for intercellular variations seem to be highly conserved among bacterial chemosensory systems.