Turning Oscillations Into Opportunities: Lessons from a Bacterial Decision Gate
Sporulation vs. competence provides a prototypic example of collective cell fate determination. The decision is performed by the action of three modules: 1) A stochastic competence switch whose transition probability is regulated by population density, population stress and cell stress. 2) A sporulation timer whose clock rate is regulated by cell stress and population stress. 3) A decision gate that is coupled to the timer via a special repressilator-like loop. We show that the distinct circuit architecture of this gate leads to special dynamics and noise management characteristics: The gate opens a time-window of opportunity for competence transitions during which it generates oscillations that are turned into a chain of transition opportunities – each oscillation opens a short interval with high transition probability. The special architecture of the gate also leads to filtering of external noise and robustness against internal noise and variations in the circuit parameters.