Matching Items (5)
- All Subjects: Synthetic Biology
- Creators: Green, Alexander
The fundamental building blocks for constructing complex synthetic gene networks are effective biological parts with wide dynamic range, low crosstalk, and modularity. RNA-based components are promising sources of such parts since they can provide regulation at the level of transcription and translation and their predictable base pairing properties enable large libraries to be generated through in silico design. This dissertation studies two different approaches for initiating interactions between RNA molecules to implement RNA-based components that achieve translational regulation. First, single-stranded domains known as toeholds were employed for detection of the highly prevalent foodborne pathogen norovirus. Toehold switch riboregulators activated by trigger RNAs from the norovirus RNA genome are designed, validated, and coupled with paper-based cell-free transcription-translation systems. Integration of paper-based reactions with synbody enrichment and isothermal RNA amplification enables as few as 160 copies/mL of norovirus from clinical samples to be detected in reactions that do not require sophisticated equipment and can be read directly by eye. Second, a new type of riboregulator that initiates RNA-RNA interactions through the loop portions of RNA stem-loop structures was developed. These loop-initiated RNA activators (LIRAs) provide multiple advantages compared to toehold-based riboregulators, exhibiting ultralow signal leakage in vivo, lacking any trigger RNA sequence constraints, and appending no additional residues to the output protein. Harnessing LIRAs as modular parts, logic gates that exploit loop-mediated control of mRNA folding state to implement AND and OR operations with up to three sequence-independent input RNAs were constructed. LIRA circuits can also be ported to paper-based cell-free reactions to implement portable systems with molecular computing and sensing capabilities. LIRAs can detect RNAs from a variety of different pathogens, such as HIV, Zika, dengue, yellow fever, and norovirus, and after coupling to isothermal amplification reactions, provide visible test results down to concentrations of 20 aM (12 RNA copies/µL). And the logic functionality of LIRA circuits can be used to specifically identify different HIV strains and influenza A subtypes. These findings demonstrate that toehold- and loop-mediated RNA-RNA interactions are both powerful strategies for implementing RNA-based computing systems for intracellular and diagnostic applications.
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.
RNA aptamers adopt tertiary structures that enable them to bind to specific ligands. This capability has enabled aptamers to be used for a variety of diagnostic, therapeutic, and regulatory applications. This dissertation focuses on the use RNA aptamers in two biological applications: (1) nucleic acid diagnostic assays and (2) scaffolding of enzymatic pathways. First, sensors for detecting arbitrary target RNAs based the fluorogenic RNA aptamer Broccoli are designed and validated. Studies of three different sensor designs reveal that toehold-initiated Broccoli-based aptasensors provide the lowest signal leakage and highest signal intensity in absence and in presence of the target RNA, respectively. This toehold-initiated design is used for developing aptasensors targeting pathogens. Diagnostic assays for detecting pathogen nucleic acids are implemented by integrating Broccoli-based aptasensors with isothermal amplification methods. When coupling with recombinase polymerase amplification (RPA), aptasensors enable detection of synthetic valley fever DNA down to concentrations of 2 fM. Integration of Broccoli-based aptasensors with nucleic acid sequence-based amplification (NASBA) enables as few as 120 copies/mL of synthetic dengue RNA to be detected in reactions taking less than three hours. Moreover, the aptasensor-NASBA assay successfully detects dengue RNA in clinical samples. Second, RNA scaffolds containing peptide-binding RNA aptamers are employed for programming the synthesis of nonribosomal peptides (NRPs). Using the NRP enterobactin pathway as a model, RNA scaffolds are developed to direct the assembly of the enzymes entE, entB, and entF from E. coli, along with the aryl-carrier protein dhbB from B. subtilis. These scaffolds employ X-shaped RNA motifs from bacteriophage packaging motors, kissing loop interactions from HIV, and peptide-binding RNA aptamers to position peptide-modified NRP enzymes. The resulting RNA scaffolds functionalized with different aptamers are designed and evaluated for in vitro production of enterobactin. The best RNA scaffold provides a 418% increase in enterobactin production compared with the system in absence of the RNA scaffold. Moreover, the chimeric scaffold, with E. coli and B. subtilis enzymes, reaches approximately 56% of the activity of the wild-type enzyme assembly. The studies presented in this dissertation will be helpful for future development of nucleic acid-based assays and for controlling protein interaction for NRPs biosynthesis.
Currently in synthetic biology only the Las, Lux, and Rhl quorum sensing pathways have been adapted for broad engineering use. Quorum sensing allows a means of cell to cell communication in which a designated sender cell produces quorum sensing molecules that modify gene expression of a designated receiver cell. While useful, these three quorum sensing pathways exhibit a nontrivial level of crosstalk, hindering robust engineering and leading to unexpected effects in a given design. To address the lack of orthogonality among these three quorum sensing pathways, previous scientists have attempted to perform directed evolution on components of the quorum sensing pathway. While a powerful tool, directed evolution is limited by the subspace that is defined by the protein. For this reason, we take an evolutionary biology approach to identify new orthogonal quorum sensing networks and test these networks for cross-talk with currently-used networks. By charting characteristics of acyl homoserine lactone (AHL) molecules used across quorum sensing pathways in nature, we have identified favorable candidate pathways likely to display orthogonality. These include Aub, Bja, Bra, Cer, Esa, Las, Lux, Rhl, Rpa, and Sin, which we have begun constructing and testing. Our synthetic circuits express GFP in response to a quorum sensing molecule, allowing quantitative measurement of orthogonality between pairs. By determining orthogonal quorum sensing pairs, we hope to identify and adapt novel quorum sensing pathways for robust use in higher-order genetic circuits.
Synthetic biology is an emerging engineering disciple, which designs and controls biological systems for creation of materials, biosensors, biocomputing, and much more. To better control and engineer these systems, modular genetic components which allow for highly specific and high dynamic range genetic regulation are necessary. Currently the field struggles to demonstrate reliable regulators which are programmable and specific, yet also allow for a high dynamic range of control. Inspired by the characteristics of the RNA toehold switch in E. coli, this project attempts utilize artificial introns and complementary trans-acting RNAs for gene regulation in a eukaryote host, S. cerevisiae. Following modification to an artificial intron, splicing control with RNA hairpins was demonstrated. Temperature shifts led to increased protein production likely due to increased splicing due to hairpin loosening. Progress is underway to demonstrate trans-acting RNA interaction to control splicing. With continued development, we hope to provide a programmable, specific, and effective means for translational gene regulation in S. cerevisae.