Feedback control is the key to achieve robust performances for many engineered systems. However, its application in biological contexts is still largely unexplored. In this work, we designed, analyzed and simulated a layered controller functioning at both molecular and populational levels. First, we used a minimal model of three states to represent a system where state A activates state B; state R is a by-product of state B that acts as a negative feedback regulating both state A, B, and sequentially R. We call the feedback applied to state B a cis feedback and the one applied to state A a trans feedback. Through stability analysis via linearization at equilibrium and sensitivity analysis at transient state, we found that the cis feedback attenuates disturbances better but recovers slower; the trans feedback recovers faster but has more dramatic responses to fluctuations; the layered feedback demonstrates both advantageous traits of the two single layers. Then we designed two versions of synthetic genetic circuits to implement the layered controller in living cells. One version with an sRNA as regulator R, the other with a transcription factor protein as the regulator R. The analysis and dynamical simulation of the models confirmed the analytical results from the minimal model. At the same time, we found that the protein regulated feedback controls have faster recovery speed but the RNA version has a stronger disturbance attenuation effect.
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