Reconstructing an epigenetic landscape using a genetic pulling approach

Michael Assaf*, Shay Be'Er, Elijah Roberts*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Cells use genetic switches to shift between alternate stable gene expression states, e.g., to adapt to new environments or to follow a developmental pathway. Conceptually, these stable phenotypes can be considered as attractive states on an epigenetic landscape with phenotypic changes being transitions between states. Measuring these transitions is challenging because they are both very rare in the absence of appropriate signals and very fast. As such, it has proved difficult to experimentally map the epigenetic landscapes that are widely believed to underly developmental networks. Here, we introduce a nonequilibrium perturbation method to help reconstruct a regulatory network's epigenetic landscape. We derive the mathematical theory needed and then use the method on simulated data to reconstruct the landscapes. Our results show that with a relatively small number of perturbation experiments it is possible to recover an accurate representation of the true epigenetic landscape. We propose that our theory provides a general method by which epigenetic landscapes can be studied. Finally, our theory suggests that the total perturbation impulse required to induce a switch between metastable states is a fundamental quantity in developmental dynamics.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number062404
JournalPhysical Review E
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2021

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© 2021 American Physical Society.


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