Frank, S. A. 2018. A biochemical logarithmic sensor with broad dynamic range. F1000Research 7:200.
Sensory perception often scales logarithmically with the input level. Similarly, the output response of biochemical systems sometimes scales logarithmically with the input signal that drives the system. How biochemical systems achieve logarithmic sensing remains an open puzzle. This article shows how a biochemical logarithmic sensor can be constructed from the most basic principles of chemical reactions. Assuming that reactions follow the classic Michaelis-Menten kinetics of mass action or the more generalized and commonly observed Hill equation response, the summed output of several simple reactions with different sensitivities to the input will often give an aggregate output response that logarithmically transforms the input. The logarithmic response is robust to stochastic fluctuations in parameter values. This model emphasizes the simplicity and robustness by which aggregate chemical circuits composed of sloppy components can achieve precise response characteristics. Both natural and synthetic designs gain from the power of this aggregate approach.