Information-carrying signals in the real world are often obscured by noise. A challenge for any system is to filter the signal from the corrupting noise. This task is particularly acute for the signal transduction network that mediates bacterial chemotaxis, because the signals are subtle, the noise arising from stochastic fluctuations is substantial, and the system is effectively acting as a differentiator which amplifies noise. Here, we investigated the filtering properties of this biological system. Through simulation, we first show that the cutoff frequency has a dramatic effect on the chemotactic efficiency of the cell. Then, using a mathematical model to describe the signal, noise, and system, we formulated and solved an optimal filtering problem to determine the cutoff frequency that bests separates the low-frequency signal from the high-frequency noise. There was good agreement between the theory, simulations, and published experimental data. Finally, we propose that an elegant implementation of the optimal filter in combination with a differentiator can be achieved via an integral control system. This paper furnishes a simple quantitative framework for interpreting many of the key notions about bacterial chemotaxis, and, more generally, it highlights the constraints on biological systems imposed by noise.

}, number = {11}, doi = {10.1371/journal.pcbi.0020154} }