A probabilistic methodology for integrating knowledge and experiments on biological networks

Irit Gat-Viks*, Amos Tanay, Daniela Raijman, Ron Shamir

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Biological systems are traditionally studied by focusing on a specific subsystem, building an intuitive model for it, and refining the model using results from carefully designed experiments. Modern experimental techniques provide massive data on the global behavior of biological systems, and systematically using these large datasets for refining existing knowledge is a major challenge. Here we introduce an extended computational framework that combines formalization of existing qualitative models, probabilistic modeling, and integration of high-throughput experimental data. Using our methods, it is possible to interpret genomewide measurements in the context of prior knowledge on the system, to assign statistical meaning to the accuracy of such knowledge, and to learn refined models with improved fit to the experiments. Our model is represented as a probabilistic factor graph, and the framework accommodates partial measurements of diverse biological elements. We study the performance of several probabilistic inference algorithms and show that hidden model variables can be reliably inferred even in the presence of feedback loops and complex logic. We show how to refine prior knowledge on combinatorial regulatory relations using hypothesis testing and derive p-values for learned model features. We test our methodology and algorithms on a simulated model and on two real yeast models. In particular, we use our method to explore uncharacterized relations among regulators in the yeast response to hyper-osmotic shock and in the yeast lysine biosynthesis system. Our integrative approach to the analysis of biological regulation is demonstrated to synergistically combine qualitative and quantitative evidence into concrete biological predictions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)165-181
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Computational Biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2006


  • Biological systems
  • High throughput data
  • Probabilistic modeling


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