The dynamic process of differentiation depends on the architecture, quantitative parameters, and noise of underlying genetic circuits. However, it remains unclear how these elements combine to control cellular behavior. We analyzed the probabilistic and transient differentiation of Bacillus subtilis cells into the state of competence. A few key parameters independently tuned the frequency of initiation and the duration of competence episodes and allowed the circuit to access different dynamic regimes, including oscillation. Altering circuit architecture showed that the duration of competence events can be made more precise. We used an experimental method to reduce global cellular noise and showed that noise levels are correlated with frequency of differentiation events. Together, the data reveal a noise-dependent circuit that is remarkably resilient and tunable in terms of its dynamic behavior.
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