Engineering of Synthetic DNA/RNA Modules for Manipulating Gene Expression and Circuit Dynamics

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Gene circuit engineering facilitates the discovery and understanding of fundamental biology and has been widely used in various biological applications. In synthetic biology, gene circuits are often constructed by two

Gene circuit engineering facilitates the discovery and understanding of fundamental biology and has been widely used in various biological applications. In synthetic biology, gene circuits are often constructed by two main strategies: either monocistronic or polycistronic constructions. The Latter architecture can be commonly found in prokaryotes, eukaryotes, and viruses and has been largely applied in gene circuit engineering. In this work, the effect of adjacent genes and noncoding regions are systematically investigated through the construction of batteries of gene circuits in diverse scenarios. Data-driven analysis yields a protein expression metric that strongly correlates with the features of adjacent transcriptional regions (ATRs). This novel mathematical tool helps the guide for circuit construction and has the implication for the design of synthetic ATRs to tune gene expression, illustrating its potential to facilitate engineering complex gene networks. The ability to tune RNA dynamics is greatly needed for biotech applications, including therapeutics and diagnostics. Diverse methods have been developed to tune gene expression through transcriptional or translational manipulation. Control of RNA stability/degradation is often overlooked and can be the lightweight alternative to regulate protein yields. To further extend the utility of engineered ATRs to regulate gene expression, a library of RNA modules named degradation-tuning RNAs (dtRNAs) are designed with the ability to form specific 5’ secondary structures prior to RBS. These modules can modulate transcript stability while having a minimal interference on translation initiation. Optimization of their functional structural features enables gene expression level to be tuned over a wide dynamic range. These engineered dtRNAs are capable of regulating gene circuit dynamics as well as noncoding RNA levels and can be further expanded into cell-free system for gene expression control in vitro. Finally, integrating dtRNA with synthetic toehold sensor enables improved paper-based viral diagnostics, illustrating the potential of using synthetic dtRNAs for biomedical applications.