Embryo development is a dynamic process governed by the regulation of timing and sequences of gene expression, which control the proper growth of the organism. While many genetic programs coordinating these sequences are common across species, the timescales of gene expression can vary significantly among different organisms. Currently, substantial experimental efforts are focused on identifying molecular mechanisms that control these temporal aspects. In contrast, the capacity of established mathematical models to incorporate tempo control while maintaining the same dynamical landscape remains less understood. This manuscript addresses this gap by developing a mathematical framework that links the functionality of developmental programs to the corresponding gene expression orbits (or landscapes). This unlocks the ability to find tempo differences as perturbations in the dynamical system that preserve its orbits. We demonstrate that this framework allows for the prediction of molecular mechanisms governing tempo, through both numerical and analytical methods. Our exploration includes two case studies: a generic network featuring coupled production and degradation, with a particular application to neural progenitor differentiation; and the repressilator.In the latter, we illustrate how altering the dimerisation rates of transcription factors can decouple the tempo from the shape of the resulting orbits. The manuscript concludes by highlighting how the identification of orthogonal molecular mechanisms for tempo control can inform the design of circuits with specific orbits and tempos.

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