Revisiting bistability in the lysis/lysogeny circuit of bacteriophage lambda

Michael Bednarz, Jennifer A. Halliday, Christophe Herman, Ido Golding

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The lysis/lysogeny switch of bacteriophage lambda serves as a paradigm for binary cell fate decision, long-term maintenance of cellular state and stimulus-triggered switching between states. In the literature, the system is often referred to as "bistable." However, it remains unclear whether this term provides an accurate description or is instead a misnomer. Here we address this question directly. We first quantify transcriptional regulation governing lysogenic maintenance using a single-cell fluorescence reporter. We then use the single-cell data to derive a stochastic theoretical model for the underlying regulatory network. We use the model to predict the steady states of the system and then validate these predictions experimentally. Specifically, a regime of bistability, and the resulting hysteretic behavior, are observed. Beyond the steady states, the theoretical model successfully predicts the kinetics of switching from lysogeny to lysis. Our results show how the physics-inspired concept of bistability can be reliably used to describe cellular phenotype, and how an experimentallycalibrated theoretical model can have accurate predictive power for cell-state switching.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere100876
JournalPloS one
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 25 2014
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)

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