Design space toolbox V2: Automated software enabling a novel phenotype-centric modeling strategy for natural and synthetic biological systems

Jason G. Lomnitz, Michael A. Savageau

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Mathematical models of biochemical systems provide a means to elucidate the link between the genotype, environment, and phenotype. A subclass of mathematical models, known as mechanistic models, quantitatively describe the complex non-linear mechanisms that capture the intricate interactions between biochemical components. However, the study of mechanistic models is challenging because most are analytically intractable and involve large numbers of system parameters. Conventional methods to analyze them rely on local analyses about a nominal parameter set and they do not reveal the vast majority of potential phenotypes possible for a given system design. We have recently developed a new modeling approach that does not require estimated values for the parameters initially and inverts the typical steps of the conventional modeling strategy. Instead, this approach relies on architectural features of the model to identify the phenotypic repertoire and then predict values for the parameters that yield specific instances of the system that realize desired phenotypic characteristics. Here, we present a collection of software tools, the Design Space Toolbox V2 based on the System Design Space method, that automates (1) enumeration of the repertoire of model phenotypes, (2) prediction of values for the parameters for any model phenotype, and (3) analysis of model phenotypes through analytical and numerical methods. The result is an enabling technology that facilitates this radically new, phenotype-centric, modeling approach. We illustrate the power of these new tools by applying them to a synthetic gene circuit that can exhibit multi-stability. We then predict values for the system parameters such that the design exhibits 2, 3, and 4 stable steady states. In one example, inspection of the basins of attraction reveals that the circuit can count between three stable states by transient stimulation through one of two input channels: A positive channel that increases the count, and a negative channel that decreases the count. This example shows the power of these new automated methods to rapidly identify behaviors of interest and efficiently predict parameter values for their realization. These tools may be applied to understand complex natural circuitry and to aid in the rational design of synthetic circuits.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number118
JournalFrontiers in Genetics
Issue numberJUL
StatePublished - Jul 12 2016


  • Biochemical systems theory
  • Code:python
  • Gene regulatory circuits
  • Synthetic biology
  • System Design Space

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Medicine
  • Genetics
  • Genetics(clinical)


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