The regulatory genome and the computer

Sorin Istrail, Smadar Ben-Tabou De-Leon, Eric H. Davidson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The definitive feature of the many thousand cis-regulatory control modules in an animal genome is their information processing capability. These modules are "wired" together in large networks that control major processes such as development; they constitute "genomic computers." Each control module receives multiple inputs in the form of the incident transcription factors which bind to them. The functions they execute upon these inputs can be reduced to basic AND, OR and NOT logic functions, which are also the unit logic functions of electronic computers. Here we consider the operating principles of the genomic computer, the product of evolution, in comparison to those of electronic computers. For example, in the genomic computer intra-machine communication occurs by means of diffusion (of transcription factors), while in electronic computers it occurs by electron transit along pre-organized wires. There follow fundamental differences in design principle in respect to the meaning of time, speed, multiplicity of processors, memory, robustness of computation and hardware and software. The genomic computer controls spatial gene expression in the development of the body plan, and its appearance in remote evolutionary time must be considered to have been a founding requirement for animal grade life.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)187-195
Number of pages9
JournalDevelopmental Biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • Biological logic computations
  • Gene regulatory networks
  • Regulatory information processing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology
  • Developmental Biology


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