Optimization of the Toxin MazF as a Counter-Selection Marker in the Cyanobacterium Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803
Traditional methods of genetic engineering are often limited to relatively few rounds of gene additions, deletions, or alterations due to a lack of additional available antibiotic resistance markers. Counter-selection marker methods can be used to remove and reuse marker genes as desired, resulting in markerless engineered strains and allowing for theoretically unlimited rounds of genetic modifications. The development of suitable counter-selection markers is vital for the development of model organisms such as cyanobacteria as biotechnological platforms.
In the hopes of providing other researchers with a new tool for markerless genetic engineering of cyanobacteria, the toxin MazF from E. coli was developed as a counter-selection marker in the most widely used cyanobacterium, Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803. The mazF gene from E. coli was cloned and inserted into a plasmid vector for downstream transformation of Synechocystis. The plasmid construct also contained two homologous flanking regions for integration of the insert into the Synechocystis genome, a nickel-inducible response regulator and promoter to control MazF expression, and a kanamycin resistance gene to serve as the antibiotic marker. In order to ensure the mazF plasmids could be cloned in a MazF-sensitive E. coli host even with slight promoter leakage, MazF expression was toned down by decreasing the efficiency of translation initiation by inserting base pairs between the ribosome binding site and the start codon of the mazF gene. Following successful cloning by E. coli, the mazF plasmids were then used to transform Synechocystis to create mazF mutant strains. Genomic analysis confirmed the successful transformation and segregation of mazF mutant strains containing the desired marker cassette. Phenotypic analysis revealed both growth arrest and production of mazF transcripts in mazF mutant strains following the addition of nickel to the cell cultures, indicating successful nickel-induced MazF expression as desired.