Noise, delays, robustness, canalization and all that
A biological system such as a developing embryo can withstand many perturbations. What is the basis of this robustness both against noise and mutation? Recent advances in modeling may throw new light on this old problem. First, recent theoretical and experimental work clearly demonstrates the importance of noise and time delays for the proper functioning of genetic networks: noise and delays are simply part of the normal operating constraints. By contrast, sweeping statements have been made recently about a so-called ‘robustness’ of biological processes, based on work that neglects noise and delays completely. I submit that studying the stability of complex biological systems with such omissions is an unnecessary, inadequate and potentially disastrous simplification. I review the existing alternatives and propose using them to construct a modeling framework that overcomes all serious limitations.