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Identification of aromatic-inducible promoters and heterologous biosensors as tuning elements for styrene production in E. coli

Description

One of the primary bottlenecks to chemical production in biological organisms is the toxicity of the chemical. Overexpression of efflux pumps has been shown to increase tolerance to aromatic compounds such as styrene and styrene oxide. Tight control of pum

One of the primary bottlenecks to chemical production in biological organisms is the toxicity of the chemical. Overexpression of efflux pumps has been shown to increase tolerance to aromatic compounds such as styrene and styrene oxide. Tight control of pump expression is necessary to maximize titers and prevent excessive strain on the cells. This study aimed to identify aromatic-sensitive native promoters and heterologous biosensors for construction of closed-loop control of efflux pump expression in E. coli. Using a promoter library constructed by Zaslaver et al., activation was measured through GFP output. Promoters were evaluated for their sensitivity to the addition of one of four aromatic compounds, their "leaking" of signal, and their induction threshold. Out of 43 targeted promoters, 4 promoters (cmr, mdtG, yahN, yajR) for styrene oxide, 2 promoters (mdtG, yahN) for styrene, 0 promoters for 2-phenylethanol, and 1 promoter for phenol (pheP) were identified as ideal control elements in aromatic bioproduction. In addition, a series of three biosensors (NahR, XylS, DmpR) known to be inducible by other aromatics were screened against styrene oxide, 2-phenylethanol, and phenol. The targeted application of these biosensors is aromatic-induced activation of linked efflux pumps. All three biosensors responded strongly in the presence of styrene oxide and 2-phenylethanol, with minor activation in the presence of phenol. Bioproduction of aromatics continues to gain traction in the biotechnology industry, and the continued discovery of aromatic-inducible elements will be essential to effective pathway control.

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2018-05

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Translational Regulation using Artificial Introns and ncRNAs

Description

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

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.

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2018-05

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Using Natural Diversity of Quorum Sensing to Expand the Synthetic Biology Toolbox

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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

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.

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2015-05

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Engineering a Co-Culture of Bacteria and Yeast for the Production of Renewable p-Coumaric Acid

Description

p-Coumaric acid is used in the food, pharmaceutical, and cosmetic industries due to its versatile properties. While prevalent in nature, harvesting the compound from natural sources is inefficient, requiring large quantities of producing crops and numerous extraction and purification steps.

p-Coumaric acid is used in the food, pharmaceutical, and cosmetic industries due to its versatile properties. While prevalent in nature, harvesting the compound from natural sources is inefficient, requiring large quantities of producing crops and numerous extraction and purification steps. Thus, the large-scale production of the compound is both difficult and costly. This research aims to produce p-coumarate directly from renewable and sustainable glucose using a co-culture of Yeast and E. Coli. Methods used in this study include: designing optimal media for mixed-species microbial growth, genetically engineering both strains to build the production pathway with maximum yield, and analyzing the presence of p-Coumarate and its pathway intermediates using High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC). To date, the results of this project include successful integration of C4H activity into the yeast strain BY4741 ∆FDC1, yielding a strain that completely consumed trans-cinnamate (initial concentration of 50 mg/L) and produced ~56 mg/L p-coumarate, a resting cell assay of the co-culture that produced 0.23 mM p-coumarate from an initial L-Phenylalanine concentration of 1.14 mM, and toxicity tests that confirmed the toxicity of trans-cinnamate to yeast for concentrations above ~50 mg/L. The hope for this project is to create a feasible method for producing p-Coumarate sustainably.

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2016-12

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Biosynthetic production of aromatic fine chemicals

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This dissertation focuses on the biosynthetic production of aromatic fine chemicals in engineered Escherichia coli from renewable resources. The discussed metabolic pathways take advantage of key metabolites in the shikimic acid pathway, which is responsible for the production of the

This dissertation focuses on the biosynthetic production of aromatic fine chemicals in engineered Escherichia coli from renewable resources. The discussed metabolic pathways take advantage of key metabolites in the shikimic acid pathway, which is responsible for the production of the aromatic amino acids phenylalanine, tyrosine, and tryptophan. For the first time, the renewable production of benzaldehyde and benzyl alcohol has been achieved in recombinant E. coli with a maximum titer of 114 mg/L of benzyl alcohol. Further strain development to knockout endogenous alcohol dehydrogenase has reduced the in vivo degradation of benzaldehyde by 9-fold, representing an improved host for the future production of benzaldehyde as a sole product. In addition, a novel alternative pathway for the production of protocatechuate (PCA) and catechol from the endogenous metabolite chorismate is demonstrated. Titers for PCA and catechol were achieved at 454 mg/L and 630 mg/L, respectively. To explore potential routes for improved aromatic product yields, an in silico model using elementary mode analysis was developed. From the model, stoichiometric optimums maximizing both product-to-substrate and biomass-to-substrate yields were discovered in a co-fed model using glycerol and D-xylose as the carbon substrates for the biosynthetic production of catechol. Overall, the work presented in this dissertation highlights contributions to the field of metabolic engineering through novel pathway design for the biosynthesis of industrially relevant aromatic fine chemicals and the use of in silico modelling to identify novel approaches to increasing aromatic product yields.

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Date Created
2016

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Expanding applications of portable biological systems: enhancements to mammalian gene editing and bacterial quorum sensing networks

Description

The portability of genetic tools from one organism to another is a cornerstone of synthetic biology. The shared biological language of DNA-to-RNA-to-protein allows for expression of polypeptide chains in phylogenetically distant organisms with little modification. The tools and contexts are

The portability of genetic tools from one organism to another is a cornerstone of synthetic biology. The shared biological language of DNA-to-RNA-to-protein allows for expression of polypeptide chains in phylogenetically distant organisms with little modification. The tools and contexts are diverse, ranging from catalytic RNAs in cell-free systems to bacterial proteins expressed in human cell lines, yet they exhibit an organizing principle: that genes and proteins may be treated as modular units that can be moved from their native organism to a novel one. However, protein behavior is always unpredictable; drop-in functionality is not guaranteed.

My work characterizes how two different classes of tools behave in new contexts and explores methods to improve their functionality: 1. CRISPR/Cas9 in human cells and 2. quorum sensing networks in Escherichia coli.

1. The genome-editing tool CRISPR/Cas9 has facilitated easily targeted, effective, high throughput genome editing. However, Cas9 is a bacterially derived protein and its behavior in the complex microenvironment of the eukaryotic nucleus is not well understood. Using transgenic human cell lines, I found that gene-silencing heterochromatin impacts Cas9’s ability to bind and cut DNA in a site-specific manner and I investigated ways to improve CRISPR/Cas9 function in heterochromatin.

2. Bacteria use quorum sensing to monitor population density and regulate group behaviors such as virulence, motility, and biofilm formation. Homoserine lactone (HSL) quorum sensing networks are of particular interest to synthetic biologists because they can function as “wires” to connect multiple genetic circuits. However, only four of these networks have been widely implemented in engineered systems. I selected ten quorum sensing networks based on their HSL production profiles and confirmed their functionality in E. coli, significantly expanding the quorum sensing toolset available to synthetic biologists.

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Date Created
2017

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Synthesis of Biological and Mathematical Methods for Gene Network Control

Description

Synthetic biology is an emerging field which melds genetics, molecular biology, network theory, and mathematical systems to understand, build, and predict gene network behavior. As an engineering discipline, developing a mathematical understanding of the genetic circuits being studied is of

Synthetic biology is an emerging field which melds genetics, molecular biology, network theory, and mathematical systems to understand, build, and predict gene network behavior. As an engineering discipline, developing a mathematical understanding of the genetic circuits being studied is of fundamental importance. In this dissertation, mathematical concepts for understanding, predicting, and controlling gene transcriptional networks are presented and applied to two synthetic gene network contexts. First, this engineering approach is used to improve the function of the guide ribonucleic acid (gRNA)-targeted, dCas9-regulated transcriptional cascades through analysis and targeted modification of the RNA transcript. In so doing, a fluorescent guide RNA (fgRNA) is developed to more clearly observe gRNA dynamics and aid design. It is shown that through careful optimization, RNA Polymerase II (Pol II) driven gRNA transcripts can be strong enough to exhibit measurable cascading behavior, previously only shown in RNA Polymerase III (Pol III) circuits. Second, inherent gene expression noise is used to achieve precise fractional differentiation of a population. Mathematical methods are employed to predict and understand the observed behavior, and metrics for analyzing and quantifying similar differentiation kinetics are presented. Through careful mathematical analysis and simulation, coupled with experimental data, two methods for achieving ratio control are presented, with the optimal schema for any application being dependent on the noisiness of the system under study. Together, these studies push the boundaries of gene network control, with potential applications in stem cell differentiation, therapeutics, and bio-production.

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Date Created
2018

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

Description

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

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.

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Date Created
2020

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RNA-Based Computing Devices for Intracellular and Diagnostic Applications

Description

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

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.

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Date Created
2019

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RNA Aptamer-Based Systems for Pathogen Detection and Biomolecule Synthesis

Description

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

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.

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Date Created
2020