Bayesian model comparison and parameter inference in systems biology using nested sampling.

Inferring parameters for models of biological processes is a current challenge in systems biology, as is the related problem of comparing competing models that explain the data. In this work we apply Skilling’s nested sampling to address both of these problems. Nested sampling is a Bayesian method for exploring parameter space that transforms a multi-dimensional integral to a 1D integration over likelihood space. This approach focusses on the computation of the marginal likelihood or evidence. The ratio of evidences of different models leads to the Bayes factor, which can be used for model comparison. We demonstrate how nested sampling can be used to reverse-engineer a system’s behaviour whilst accounting for the uncertainty in the results. The effect of missing initial conditions of the variables as well as unknown parameters is investigated. We show how the evidence and the model ranking can change as a function of the available data. Furthermore, the addition of data from extra variables of the system can deliver more information for model comparison than increasing the data from one variable, thus providing a basis for experimental design.