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Annu Rev Biophys. 2011;40:63-80. doi: 10.1146/annurev-biophys-042910-155227.

Decision making in living cells: lessons from a simple system.

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  • Verna and Marrs McLean Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX 77030, USA. igolding@illinois.edu


The life cycle of bacteriophage lambda serves as a simplified paradigm for cell-fate decisions. The ongoing quantitative, high-resolution experimental investigation of this life cycle has produced some important insights in recent years. These insights have to do with the way cells choose among alternative fates, how they maintain long-term memory of their gene-expression state, and how they switch from one stable state to another. The recent studies have highlighted the role of spatiotemporal effects in cellular processes and the importance of distinguishing chemical stochasticity from possible hidden variables in cellular decision making.

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