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Methods Enzymol. 2011;500:597-625. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-12-385118-5.00028-1.

Origins of stochastic intracellular processes and consequences for cell-to-cell variability and cellular survival strategies.

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Life Sciences, Centre for Mathematics and Computer Science (CWI), Amsterdam, The Netherlands.


Quantitative analyses of the dynamics of single cells have become a powerful approach in current cell biology. They give us an unprecedented opportunity to study dynamics of molecular networks at a high level of accuracy in living single cells. Genetically identical cells, growing in the same environment and sharing the same growth history, can differ remarkably in their molecular makeup and physiological behaviors. The origins of this cell-to-cell variability have in many cases been traced to the inevitable stochasticity of molecular reactions. Those mechanisms can cause isogenic cells to have qualitatively different life histories. Many studies indicate that molecular noise can be exploited by cell populations to enhance survival prospects in uncertain environments. On the other hand, cells have evolved noise-suppression mechanisms to cope with the inevitable noise in their functioning so as to reduce the hazardous effects of noise. In this chapter, we discuss key experiments, theoretical results, and physiological consequences of molecular stochasticity to introduce this exciting field to a broader community of (systems) biologists.

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