A number of technological innovations are yielding unprecedented data on the networks of biochemical, genetic, and biophysical reactions that underlie cellular behavior and failure. These networks are composed of hundreds to thousands of chemical species and structures, interacting via nonlinear and possibly stochastic physical processes. A central goal of modern biology is to optimally use the data on these networks to understand how their design leads to the observed cellular behaviors and failures. Ultimately, this knowledge should enable cellular engineers to redesign cellular processes to meet industrial needs (such as optimal natural product synthesis), aid in choosing the most effective targets for pharmaceuticals, and tailor treatment for individual genotypes. The size and complexity of these networks and the inevitable lack of complete data, however, makes reaching these goals extremely difficult. If it proves possible to modularize these networks into functional subnetworks, then these smaller networks may be amenable to direct analysis and might serve as regulatory motifs. These motifs, recurring elements of control, may help to deduce the structure and function of partially known networks and form the basis for fulfilling the goals described above. A number of approaches to identifying and analyzing control motifs in intracellular networks are reviewed.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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