A number of mechanistic and predictive genetic regulatory networks (GRNs) comprising dozens of genes have already been characterized at the level of cis-regulatory interactions. Reconstructions of networks of 100s to 1000s of genes and their interactions are currently underway. Understanding the organizational and functional principles underlying these networks is probably the single greatest challenge facing genomics today. We review the current approaches to deciphering large-scale GRNs and discuss some of their limitations. We then propose a bottom-up approach in which large-scale GRNs are first organized in terms of functionally distinct GRN building blocks of one or a few genes. Biological processes may then be viewed as the outcome of functional interactions among these simple, well-characterized functional building blocks. We describe several putative GRN functional building blocks and show that they can be located within GRNs on the basis of their interaction topology and additional, simple and experimentally testable constraints.
Keywords: Genetic regulatory networks, systems biology, transcriptional regulation, visualization