Indexed on: 18 Jul '08Published on: 18 Jul '08Published in: Biochemical Society transactions
In recent years, a number of technical and experimental advances have allowed us to obtain an unprecedented amount of information about living systems on a genomic scale. Although the complete genomes of many organisms are available due to the progress made in sequencing technology, the challenge to understand how the individual genes are regulated within the cell remains. Here, I provide an overview of current computational methods to investigate transcriptional regulation. I will first discuss how representing protein-DNA interactions as a network provides us with a conceptual framework to understand the organization of regulatory interactions in an organism. I will then describe methods to predict transcription factors and cis-regulatory elements using information such as sequence, structure and evolutionary conservation. Finally, I will discuss approaches to infer genome-scale transcriptional regulatory networks using experimentally characterized interactions from model organisms and by reverse-engineering regulatory interactions that makes use of gene expression data and genomewide location data. The methods summarized here can be exploited to discover previously uncharacterized transcriptional pathways in organisms whose genome sequence is known. In addition, such a framework and approach can be invaluable to investigate transcriptional regulation in complex microbial communities such as the human gut flora or populations of emerging pathogens. Apart from these medical applications, the concepts and methods discussed can be used to understand the combinatorial logic of transcriptional regulation and can be exploited in biotechnological applications, such as in synthetic biology experiments aimed at engineering regulatory circuits for various purposes.