Abstract

Biological systems are adapted to respond quickly to changes in their environment. Signal processing often leads to all-or-none switch-like activation of downstream pathways. Such biological switches are based on molecular interactions that form positive feedback loops. Proper signal processing and switching have to be made by the noisy interactions of fluctuating molecular components; still, switching has to happen quickly once a threshold in the input signal is reached. Several computing algorithms have been designed to perform similar all-or-none decisions with high efficiency. We discuss here how the structure and dynamical features of a computational algorithm resemble the behaviour of a large class of biological switches and what makes them work efficiently. Furthermore, we highlight what biologists can learn by looking at specific features of computational algorithms.