Two-component systems enable bacteria to sense changes in their environment and adjust gene expression in response. Multiple two-component systems could function as a combinatorial sensor to discriminate environmental conditions. A combinatorial sensor is composed of a set of sensors that are non-specifically activated to different magnitudes by many stimuli, such that their collective activity pattern defines the signal. Using promoter reporters and flow cytometry, we measured the response of three two-component systems in Escherichia coli that have been previously reported to respond to many environmental stimuli (EnvZ/OmpR, CpxA/CpxR, and RcsC/RcsD/RcsB). A chemical library was screened for the ability to activate the sensors and 13 inducers were identified that produce different patterns of sensor activity. The activities of the three systems are uncorrelated with each other and the osmolarity of the inducing media. Five of the seven possible non-trivial patterns generated by three sensors are observed. This data demonstrate one mechanism by which bacteria are able to use a limited set of sensors to identify a diverse set of compounds and environmental conditions.
systems biology; synthetic biology; membrane fluidity; butanol; isobutanol; biofuel; biodiesel; stress response
Synthetic genetic sensors and circuits enable programmable control over the timing and conditions of gene expression. They are being increasingly incorporated into the control of complex, multigene pathways and cellular functions. Here, we propose a design strategy to genetically separate the sensing/circuitry functions from the pathway to be controlled. This separation is achieved by having the output of the circuit drive the expression of a polymerase, which then activates the pathway from polymerase-specific promoters. The sensors, circuits and polymerase are encoded together on a ‘controller’ plasmid. Variants of T7 RNA polymerase that reduce toxicity were constructed and used as scaffolds for the construction of four orthogonal polymerases identified via part mining that bind to unique promoter sequences. This set is highly orthogonal and induces cognate promoters by 8- to 75-fold more than off-target promoters. These orthogonal polymerases enable four independent channels linking the outputs of circuits to the control of different cellular functions. As a demonstration, we constructed a controller plasmid that integrates two inducible systems, implements an AND logic operation and toggles between metabolic pathways that change Escherichia coli green (deoxychromoviridans) and red (lycopene). The advantages of this organization are that (i) the regulation of the pathway can be changed simply by introducing a different controller plasmid, (ii) transcription is orthogonal to host machinery and (iii) the pathway genes are not transcribed in the absence of a controller and are thus more easily carried without invoking evolutionary pressure.
Many applications require cells to switch between discrete phenotypic states. Here, we harness the FimBE inversion switch to flip a promoter, allowing expression to be toggled between two genes oriented in opposite directions. The response characteristics of the switch are characterized using two-color cytometry. This switch is used to toggle between orthogonal chemosensory pathways by controlling the expression of CheW and CheW*, which interact with the Tar (aspartate) and Tsr* (serine) chemoreceptors, respectively. CheW* and Tsr* each contain a mutation at their protein-protein interface such that they interact with each other. The complete genetic program containing an arabinose-inducible FimE controlling CheW/CheW* (and constitutively-expressed tar/tsr*) is transformed into an E. coli strain lacking all native chemoreceptors. This program enables bacteria to swim towards serine or aspartate in the absence or presence of arabinose, respectively. Thus, the program functions as a multiplexer with arabinose as the selector. This demonstrates the ability of synthetic genetic circuits to connect to a natural signaling network to switch between phenotypes.
genetic memory; recombinase; stochastic switching; synthetic biology; systems biology
Light is a powerful tool for manipulating living cells because it can be applied with high resolution across space and over time. We previously constructed a red-light sensitive E. coli transcription system based on a chimera between the red/far red switchable cyanobacterial phytochrome Cph1 and the E. coli EnvZ/OmpR two-component signaling pathways. Here we report the development of a green light inducible transcription system in E. coli based on a recently discovered green/red photoswitchable two-component system from cyanobacteria. We demonstrate that transcriptional output is proportional to the intensity of green light applied and that the green sensor is orthogonal to the red sensor at intensities of 532nm light less than 0.01W/m2. Expression of both sensors in a single cell allows two-color optical control of transcription in both batch culture and in patterns across a lawn of engineered cells. Because each sensor functions as a photoreversible switch, this system should allow the spatial and temporal control of the expression of multiple genes though different combinations of light wavelengths. This feature should aid precision single cell and population-level studies in systems and synthetic biology.
Light-regulated promoter; synthetic biology; two-component system; phytochrome; cyanobacteriochrome
Optogenetic modules offer cell biologists unprecedented new ways to poke and prod cells. The combination of these precision perturbative tools with observational tools, such as fluorescent proteins, may dramatically accelerate our ability to understand the inner workings of the cell.
The increasing scale and sophistication of genetic engineering will necessitate a new generation of computer-aided design (CAD). For large genetic programs, keeping track of the DNA on the level of nucleotides becomes tedious and error prone. To push the size of projects, it is important to abstract the designer from the process of part selection and optimization. The vision is to specify genetic programs in a higher-level language, which a genetic compiler could automatically convert into a DNA sequence. Steps towards this goal include: defining the semantics of the higher-level language, algorithms to select and assemble parts, and biophysical methods to link DNA sequence to function. These will be coupled to graphic design interfaces and simulation packages to aid in the prediction of program dynamics, optimize genes, and scan projects for errors.
Computer-aided design; systems biology; synthetic biology; design automation
Genetically-encodable optical reporters, such as Green Fluorescent Protein, have revolutionized the observation and measurement of cellular states. However, the inverse challenge of using light to precisely control cellular behavior has only recently begun to be addressed; semi-synthetic chromophore-tethered receptors1 and naturally-occurring channel rhodopsins have been used to directly perturb neuronal networks2,3. The difficulty of engineering light sensitive proteins remains a significant impediment to the optical control to most cell-biological processes. Here we demonstrate the use of a new genetically-encoded light-control system based on an optimized reversible protein-protein interaction from the phytochrome signaling network of Arabidopsis thaliana. Because protein-protein interactions are one of the most general currencies of cellular information, this system can in principal be generically used to control diverse functions. Here we show that this system can be used to precisely and reversibly translocate target proteins to the membrane with micrometer spatial resolution and second time resolution. We show that light-gated translocation of the upstream activators of rho-family GTPases, which control the actin cytoskeleton, can be used to precisely reshape and direct the cell morphology of mammalian cells. The light-gated protein-protein interaction that has been optimized in this work should be useful for the design of diverse light-programmable reagents, potentially enabling a new generation of perturbative, quantitative experiments in cell biology.
Two-component systems are a class of sensors that enable bacteria to respond to environmental and cell-state signals. The canonical system consists of a membrane-bound sensor histidine kinase that autophosphorylates in response to a signal and transfers the phosphate to an intracellular response regulator. Bacteria typically have dozens of two-component systems. The key questions are whether these systems are linear and, if they are, how cross talk between systems is buffered. In this work, we studied the EnvZ/OmpR and CpxA/CpxR systems from Escherichia coli, which have been shown previously to exhibit slow cross talk in vitro. Using in vitro radiolabeling and a rapid quenched-flow apparatus, we experimentally measured 10 biochemical parameters capturing the cognate and non-cognate phosphotransfer reactions between the systems. These data were used to parameterize a mathematical model that was used to predict how cross talk is affected as different genes are knocked out. It was predicted that significant cross talk between EnvZ and CpxR only occurs for the triple mutant ΔompR ΔcpxA ΔactA-pta. All seven combinations of these knockouts were made to test this prediction and only the triple mutant demonstrated significant cross talk, where the cpxP promoter was induced 280-fold upon the activation of EnvZ. Furthermore, the behavior of the other knockouts agrees with the model predictions. These results support a kinetic model of buffering where both the cognate bifunctional phosphatase activity and the competition between regulator proteins for phosphate prevent cross talk in vivo.
two-component systems; systems biology; synthetic biology; computational biology; genetic circuits
The type III secretion system (T3SS) is a molecular machine in gram negative bacteria that exports proteins through both membranes to the extracellular environment. It has been previously demonstrated that the T3SS encoded in Salmonella Pathogenicity Island 1 (SPI-1) can be harnessed to export recombinant proteins. Here, we demonstrate the secretion of a variety of unfolded spider silk proteins and use these data to quantify the constraints of this system with respect to the export of recombinant protein.
To test how the timing and level of protein expression affects secretion, we designed a hybrid promoter that combines an IPTG-inducible system with a natural genetic circuit that controls effector expression in Salmonella (psicA). LacO operators are placed in various locations in the psicA promoter and the optimal induction occurs when a single operator is placed at the +5nt (234-fold) and a lower basal level of expression is achieved when a second operator is placed at -63nt to take advantage of DNA looping. Using this tool, we find that the secretion efficiency (protein secreted divided by total expressed) is constant as a function of total expressed. We also demonstrate that the secretion flux peaks at 8 hours. We then use whole gene DNA synthesis to construct codon optimized spider silk genes for full-length (3129 amino acids) Latrodectus hesperus dragline silk, Bombyx mori cocoon silk, and Nephila clavipes flagelliform silk and PCR is used to create eight truncations of these genes. These proteins are all unfolded polypeptides and they encompass a variety of length, charge, and amino acid compositions. We find those proteins fewer than 550 amino acids reliably secrete and the probability declines significantly after ~700 amino acids. There also is a charge optimum at -2.4, and secretion efficiency declines for very positively or negatively charged proteins. There is no significant correlation with hydrophobicity.
We show that the natural system encoded in SPI-1 only produces high titers of secreted protein for 4-8 hours when the natural psicA promoter is used to drive expression. Secretion efficiency can be high, but declines for charged or large sequences. A quantitative characterization of these constraints will facilitate the effective use and engineering of this system.
Edge detection is a signal processing algorithm common in artificial intelligence and image recognition programs. We have constructed a genetically encoded edge detection algorithm that programs an isogenic community of E.coli to sense an image of light, communicate to identify the light-dark edges, and visually present the result of the computation. The algorithm is implemented using multiple genetic circuits. An engineered light sensor enables cells to distinguish between light and dark regions. In the dark, cells produce a diffusible chemical signal that diffuses into light regions. Genetic logic gates are used so that only cells that sense light and the diffusible signal produce a positive output. A mathematical model constructed from first principles and parameterized with experimental measurements of the component circuits predicts the performance of the complete program. Quantitatively accurate models will facilitate the engineering of more complex biological behaviors and inform bottom-up studies of natural genetic regulatory networks.
Microbial engineering often requires fine control over protein expression; for example, to connect genetic circuits 1-7 or control flux through a metabolic pathway 8-13. We have developed a predictive design method for synthetic ribosome binding sites that enables the rational control of a protein's production rate on a proportional scale. Experimental validation of over 100 predictions in Escherichia coli shows that the method is accurate to within a factor of 2.3 over a range of 100,000-fold. The design method also correctly predicts that reusing a ribosome binding site sequence in different genetic contexts can result in different protein expression levels. We demonstrate the method's utility by rationally optimizing a protein's expression level to connect a genetic sensor to a synthetic circuit. The proposed forward engineering approach will accelerate the construction and systematic optimization of large genetic systems.
synthetic biology; translation; optimization; metabolic engineering; genetic circuit; RNA secondary structure
The type III secretion system (T3SS) exports proteins from the cytoplasm, through both the inner and outer membranes, to the external environment. Here, a system is constructed to harness the T3SS encoded within Salmonella Pathogeneity Island 1 to export proteins of biotechnological interest. The system is composed of an operon containing the target protein fused to an N-terminal secretion tag and its cognate chaperone. Transcription is controlled by a genetic circuit that only turns on when the cell is actively secreting protein. The system is refined using a small human protein (DH domain) and demonstrated by exporting three silk monomers (ADF-1, -2, and -3), representative of different types of spider silk. Synthetic genes encoding silk monomers were designed to enhance genetic stability and codon usage, constructed by automated DNA synthesis, and cloned into the secretion control system. Secretion rates up to 1.8 mg l−1 h−1 are demonstrated with up to 14% of expressed protein secreted. This work introduces new parts to control protein secretion in Gram-negative bacteria, which will be broadly applicable to problems in biotechnology.
automated DNA synthesis; cellular engineering; biomaterials; genetic parts; systems biology
Bacterial pathogenesis requires the precise spatial and temporal control of gene expression, the dynamics of which are controlled by regulatory networks. A network encoded within Salmonella Pathogenicity Island 1 controls the expression of a type III protein secretion system involved in the invasion of host cells. The dynamics of this network are measured in single cells using promoter-green fluorescent protein (gfp) reporters and flow cytometry. During induction, there is a temporal order of gene expression, with transcriptional inputs turning on first, followed by structure, and effector genes. The promoters show varying stochastic properties, where graded inputs are converted into all-or-none and hybrid responses. The relaxation dynamics are measured by shifting cells from inducing into non-inducing conditions and measuring the fluorescence decay. The gfp expressed from promoters controlling the transcriptional inputs (hilC and hilD) and structural genes (prgH) decay exponentially with a characteristic time of 50–55 minutes. In contrast, the gfp expressed from a promoter controlling the expression of effectors (sicA) persists for 110 ± 9 minutes. This promoter is controlled by a genetic circuit formed by a transcription factor (InvF), chaperone (SicA) and secreted protein (SipC) that regulates effector expression in response to the secretion capacity of the cell. A mathematical model of this circuit demonstrates that the delay is due to a split positive feedback loop. This model is tested in a ΔsicA knockout where sicA is complemented with and without the feedback loop. The delay is eliminated when the feedback loop is deleted. Further, a robustness analysis of the model predicts that the delay time can be tuned by changing the affinity of SicA:InvF multimers to an operator in the sicA promoter. This prediction is used to construct a targeted library, which contains mutants with both longer and shorter delays. This combination of theory and experiments provides a platform to predict how genetic perturbations lead to changes in the global dynamics of a regulatory network.
bistability; cascade; genetic circuit; invasion; stochastic
Microorganisms use genetic circuits to integrate environmental information. We have constructed a synthetic AND gate in the bacterium Escherichia coli that integrates information from two promoters as inputs and activates a promoter output only when both input promoters are transcriptionally active. The integration occurs via an interaction between an mRNA and tRNA. The first promoter controls the transcription of a T7 RNA polymerase gene with two internal amber stop codons blocking translation. The second promoter controls the amber suppressor tRNA supD. When both components are transcribed, T7 RNA polymerase is synthesized and this in turn activates a T7 promoter. Because inputs and outputs are promoters, the design is modular; that is, it can be reconnected to integrate different input signals and the output can be used to drive different cellular responses. We demonstrate this modularity by wiring the gate to integrate natural promoters (responding to Mg2+ and AI-1) and using it to implement a phenotypic output (invasion of mammalian cells). A mathematical model of the transfer function is derived and parameterized using experimental data.
genetic circuit; logic gate; signal integration; synthetic biology