Predicting growth rate from gene expression

Thomas P. Wytock, Adilson E. Motter*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Growth rate is one of the most important and most complex phenotypic characteristics of unicellular microorganisms, which determines the genetic mutations that dominate at the population level, and ultimately whether the population will survive. Translating changes at the genetic level to their growth-rate consequences remains a subject of intense interest, since such a mapping could rationally direct experiments to optimize antibiotic efficacy or bioreactor productivity. In this work, we directly map transcriptional profiles to growth rates by gathering published gene-expression data from Escherichia coli and Saccharomyces cerevisiae with corresponding growth-rate measurements. Using a machine-learning technique called k-nearest-neighbors regression, we build a model which predicts growth rate from gene expression. By exploiting the correlated nature of gene expression and sparsifying the model, we capture 81% of the variance in growth rate of the E. coli dataset, while reducing the number of features from >4,000 to 9. In S. cerevisiae, we account for 89% of the variance in growth rate, while reducing from >5,500 dimensions to 18. Such a model provides a basis for selecting successful strategies from among the combinatorial number of experimental possibilities when attempting to optimize complex phenotypic traits like growth rate.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)367-372
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 8 2019


  • Biological networks
  • Data science
  • Machine learning
  • Metabolic networks
  • Systems biology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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