A synthetic genetic system is designed and characterized that allows Escherichia coli to sense and eradicate Pseudomonas aeruginosa, providing a novel antimicrobial strategy that could potentially be applied to fighting infectious pathogens.
We have engineered and demonstrated a novel genetic circuit that enables Escherichia coli to produce and release pyocin upon quorum sensing detection of Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which in turn kills P. aeruginosa.The quorum sensing device, which comprises an LasR transcription factor constitutively expressed by a pTetR promoter and a downstream pLuxR inducible promoter, has a switch point of 1.2 × 10E-7 M 3OC12HSL and is able to sense 3OC12HSL natively produced by P. aeruginosa.The E7 lysis device when coupled downstream of the quorum sensing device enhances pyocin release eight-fold.The engineered E. coli, which carries the sensing, lysing, and killing devices, effectively inhibits the growth of planktonic and biofilm P. aeruginosa by 99 and 90%, respectively.
In this study, we have made progress toward developing a novel antimicrobial strategy, based on an engineered microbial system, using the synthetic biology framework. Our final system was designed to (i) detect AHLs produced by P. aeruginosa; (ii) produce pyocin S5 upon the detection; and (iii) lyse the E. coli cells by E7 lysis protein so that the produced pyocin S5 is released from the cells, leading to the killing of P. aeruginosa.
Figure 1 shows a schematic of our sensing and killing genetic system. The sensing device was designed based on the Type I quorum sensing mechanism of P. aeruginosa. The tetR promoter, which is constitutively on, produces a transcriptional factor, LasR, that binds to AHL 3OC12HSL. The luxR promoter, to which LasR-3OC12HSL activator complex reportedly binds, was adopted as the inducible promoter in our sensing device (Gray et al, 1994). Next, the formation of the LasR-3OC12HSL complex, which binds to the luxR promoter, activates the killing and lysing devices, leading to the production of pyocin S5 and lysis E7 proteins within the E. coli chassis. Upon reaching a threshold concentration, the lysis E7 protein perforates membrane of the E. coli host and releases the accumulated pyocin S5. Pyocin S5, which is a soluble protein, then diffuses toward the target pathogen and damages its cellular integrity, thereby killing it.
To evaluate and characterize the sensing device, the gene encoding the green fluorescent protein (GFP) was fused to the sensing device and the GFP expression was monitored at a range of concentrations of 3OC12HSL. From the measured GFP synthesis rates, we observed a basal expression level of 0.216 RFU per OD per minute without induction, followed by a sharp increase in GFP production rate as the concentration of 3OC12HSL was increased beyond 1.0E-7 M. A transfer function that describes the static relationship between the input (3OC12HSL) and output (GFP production rate) of the sensing device was determined by fitting an empirical mathematical model (Hill equation) to the experimental data where the input 3OC12HSL concentration is <1.0E-6 M. The resulting best fit model demonstrated that the static performance of the sensing device follows a Hill equation below the input concentration of 1.0E-6 M 3OC12HSL. The model showed that the sensing device saturated at a maximum output of 1.96 RFU per OD per minute at input concentration >3.3E-7 M but <1.0E-6 M 3OC12HSL, and the switch point for the sensing device was 1.2E-7 M 3OC12HSL, the input concentration at which output is at half-maximal. Since this switch point concentration is smaller than the concentration of 3OC12HSL present (1.0E-6 to 1.0E-4 M) within proximity to the site of P. aeruginosa infection as earlier reported in the literature (Pearson et al, 1995; Charlton et al, 2000), the sensing device would be sensitive enough to detect the amount of 3OC12HSL natively produced by P. aeruginosa.
In line with the objective of the E7 lysis device in mediating the export of pyocin, we studied the efficiency of the lysis device in the final system by measuring the amount of the released protein. While distinct bands that corresponded to pyocin S5 were observed on the SDS–PAGE of the final system, no bands were seen in lanes without the lysis device. We further validated the results by estimating the protein concentrations in the supernatant with Bradford assay and showed that the amount of pyocin released by our final system was eight times higher than the system without the lysis device.
To verify that our engineered E. coli can inhibit P. aeruginosa in a mixed culture, we monitored the growth of P. aeruginosa co-cultured with the engineered E. coli in the ratio 1:4 by CFU count. The result shows that our engineered E. coli with the final system effectively inhibited the growth of P. aeruginosa by 99% while continuous growths were apparent in P. aeruginosa co-cultured with incomplete E. coli systems missing either the pyocin S5 or E7 lysis devices.
To examine the potential application of our engineered system against a pseudo disease state of Pseudomonas, a static biofilm inhibition assay was performed. Figure 6A shows that our engineered E. coli inhibited the formation of P. aeruginosa biofilm by close to 90%. This observation is in stark contrast to the pyocin-resistant control strain PAO1 and pyocin-sensitive clinical isolate ln7 subjected to treatment with E. coli having the systems missing either the pyocin S5 or E7 lysis devices. To visualize the extent of biofilm inhibition, biofilm cells with green fluorescence were grown in the presence of engineered E. coli on glass slide substrate and examined with confocal laser scanning microscopy. Figure 6B shows that the morphology of Pseudomonas biofilm treated with the engineered E. coli appeared sparse, while elaborated honey-combed structures were apparent in the control experiments. Collectively, our results suggest that our engineered E. coli carrying the final system, which contains the sensing, killing, and lysing devices, can effectively inhibit the growth of P. aeruginosa in both planktonic and sessile states.
In summary, we engineered a novel biological system, which comprises sensing, killing, and lysing devices, that enables E. coli to sense and eradicate pathogenic P. aeruginosa strains by exploiting the synthetic biology framework. More importantly, our study presents the possibility of engineering potentially beneficial microbiota into therapeutic bioagents to arrest Pseudomonas infection. Given the stalled development of new antibiotics and the increasing emergence of multidrug-resistant pathogens, this study provides the foundational basis for a novel synthetic biology-driven antimicrobial strategy that could be extended to include other pathogens such as Vibrio cholera and Helicobacter pylori.
Synthetic biology aims to systematically design and construct novel biological systems that address energy, environment, and health issues. Herein, we describe the development of a synthetic genetic system, which comprises quorum sensing, killing, and lysing devices, that enables Escherichia coli to sense and kill a pathogenic Pseudomonas aeruginosa strain through the production and release of pyocin. The sensing, killing, and lysing devices were characterized to elucidate their detection, antimicrobial and pyocin release functionalities, which subsequently aided in the construction of the final system and the verification of its designed behavior. We demonstrated that our engineered E. coli sensed and killed planktonic P. aeruginosa, evidenced by 99% reduction in the viable cells. Moreover, we showed that our engineered E. coli inhibited the formation of P. aeruginosa biofilm by close to 90%, leading to much sparser and thinner biofilm matrices. These results suggest that E. coli carrying our synthetic genetic system may provide a novel synthetic biology-driven antimicrobial strategy that could potentially be applied to fighting P. aeruginosa and other infectious pathogens.