Abstract

Cells operate in noisy molecular environments via complex regulatory networks. It is possible to understand how molecular counts are related to noise in specific networks, but it is not generally clear how noise relates to network complexity, because different levels of complexity also imply different overall number of molecules. For a fixed function, does increased network complexity reduce noise, beyond the mere increase of overall molecular counts? If so, complexity could provide an advantage counteracting the costs involved in maintaining larger networks. For that purpose, we investigate how noise affects multistable systems, where a small amount of noise could lead to very different outcomes; thus we turn to biochemical switches. Our method for comparing networks of different structure and complexity is to place them in conditions where they produce exactly the same deterministic function. We are then in a good position to compare their noise characteristics relatively to their identical deterministic traces. We show that more complex networks are better at coping with both intrinsic and extrinsic noise. Intrinsic noise tends to decrease with complexity, and extrinsic noise tends to have less impact. Our findings suggest a new role for increased complexity in biological networks, at parity of function.