We describe a graph reduction operation, generalizing three graph reduction operations related to gene assembly in ciliates. The graph formalization of gene assembly considers three reduction rules, called the positive rule, double rule, and negative rule, each of which removes one or two vertices from a graph. The graph reductions we define consist precisely of all compositions of these rules. We study graph reductions in terms of the adjacency matrix of a graph over the finite field with two elements, and show that they are path invariant, in the sense that the result of a sequence of graph reductions depends only on the vertices removed. The binary rank of a graph is the rank of its adjacency matrix over the finite field with two elements. We show that the binary rank of a graph determines how many times the negative rule is applied in any sequence of positive, double, and negative rules reducing the graph to the empty graph, resolving two open problems posed by Harju, Li, and Petre. We also demonstrate the close relation between graph reductions and the matrix pivot operation, both of which can be studied in terms of the poset of subsets of vertices of a graph that can be removed by a graph reduction
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