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Wiley Interdiscip Rev Syst Biol Med. 2013 Nov-Dec;5(6):751-9. doi: 10.1002/wsbm.1243. Epub 2013 Aug 29.

Using variability in gene expression as a tool for studying gene regulation.

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Department of Physics, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, USA.


With the advent of quantitative tools for measuring gene expression in single cells, researchers have made the discovery that in many contexts, messenger RNA and protein levels can vary widely from cell to cell, often because of inherently stochastic events associated with gene expression. The study of this cellular individuality has become a field of study in its own right, characterized by a blend of technological development, theoretical analysis, and, more recently, applications to biological phenomena. In this review, we focus on the use of the variability inherent to gene expression as a tool to understand gene regulation. We discuss the use of variability as a natural systems-level perturbation, its use in quantitatively characterizing the biological processes underlying transcription, and its application to the discovery of new gene regulatory interactions. We believe that use of variability can provide new biological insights into different aspects of transcriptional control and can provide a powerful complementary approach to that of existing techniques.

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