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Protein Synthesis Control by Means of Formal Models

Final Report Summary - FORMALBIO (Protein Synthesis Control by Means of Formal Models)

Proteins play essential roles in all living organisms, including humans. The excess or shortage of a particular protein can lead to health problems, e.g.. lack of insulin can lead to diabetes. Today, some proteins required by humans can be produced by micro-organisms as bacteria or yeast. The biological processes involved in the protein production are complex and difficult to control. The goal of this project is to study in detail the mechanism by which proteins are synthesized in order to optimize their production.

In order to analyse and optimize a given biological system, a mathematical description of its mechanisms is required. Developing such a description is a challenging task mainly due to the paucity and heterogeneity of the available biological data. This project has overcome this problem by developing a novel set of mathematical tools, called Flexible Nets, that enables scientists to describe, analyse and control biological systems that are poorly characterized. Flexible Nets provide a graphical representation of the biological system under study, and can accommodate in a single system description uncertain data from different sources.

Several methods have been designed along this project in order to analyse and control biological systems that are described in terms of Flexible Nets. These methods have been tested against well studied systems as the glucose consumption in yeast, and against poorly defined systems as the accumulation of copper in individuals suffering from Wilson’s disease. The research results attained so far have been presented in scientific conferences and submitted to international research journals.

The outcome of this project is expected to help to better understand the biological processes going on in a cell. A profound knowledge of such processes could lead to the development of control approaches not only to optimize the protein synthesis but also to, for instance, reprogram the cell metabolism to enhance renewable and sustainable fuel production, or look for druggable vulnerabilities of cancer networks for improved anticancer therapeutics.