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The number of molecules involved in a cell or subcellular structure is sometimes rather small. In this situation, ordinary macroscopic-level fluctuations can be overwhelmed by non-negligible large fluctuations, which results in drastic changes in chemical-reaction dynamics and statistics compared to those observed under a macroscopic system (i.e., with a large number of molecules). In order to understand how salient changes emerge from fluctuations in molecular number, we here quantitatively define small-number effect by focusing on a “mesoscopic” level, in which the concentration distribution is distinguishable both from micro- and macroscopic ones and propose a criterion for determining whether or not such an effect can emerge in a given chemical reaction network. Using the proposed criterion, we systematically derive a list of motifs of chemical reaction networks that can show small-number effects, which includes motifs showing emergence of the power law and the bimodal distribution observable in a mesoscopic regime with respect to molecule number. The list of motifs provided herein is helpful in the search for candidates of biochemical reactions with a small-number effect for possible biological functions, as well as for designing a reaction system whose behavior can change drastically depending on molecule number, rather than concentration.


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