Yeast commits approximately 76% of its energy budget to protein synthesis and the efficiency and control of this process are accordingly critical to organism growth and fitness. We now have detailed genetic, biochemical and biophysical knowledge of the components of the eukaryotic translation machinery. However, these kinds of information do not, in themselves, give us a satisfactory picture of how the overall system is controlled. This is where quantitative system analysis can enable a step-change in our understanding of biological resource management and how this relates to cell physiology and evolution. An important aspect of this more system-oriented approach to translational control is the inherent heterogeneity of cell populations that is generated by gene expression noise. In this short review, we address the fact that, although the vast majority of our knowledge of the translation machinery is based on experimental analysis of samples that each contain hundreds of millions of cells, in reality every cell is unique in terms of its composition and control properties. We have entered a new era in which research into the heterogeneity of cell systems promises to provide answers to many (previously unanswerable) questions about cell physiology and evolution.

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