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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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Plasmid Design for Making a HEK293t Reporter Cell Line to Study Gene Expression Dynamics

Description

Cell fate is a complex and dynamic process with many genetic components. It has often been likened to “multistable” mathematical systems because of the numerous possible “stable” states, or cell types, that cells may end up in. Due

Cell fate is a complex and dynamic process with many genetic components. It has often been likened to “multistable” mathematical systems because of the numerous possible “stable” states, or cell types, that cells may end up in. Due to its complexity, understanding the process of cell fate and differentiation has proven challenging. A better understanding of cell differentiation has applications in regenerative stem cell therapies, disease pathologies, and gene regulatory networks.
A variety of different genes have been associated with cell fate. For example, the Nanog/Oct-4/Sox2 network forms the core interaction of a gene network that maintains stem cell pluripotency, and Oct-4 and Sox2 also play a role in the tissue types that stem cells eventually differentiate into. Using the CRISPR/cas9 based homology independent targeted integration (HITI) method developed by Suzuki et al., we can integrate fluorescent tags behind genes with reasonable efficiency via the non-homologous end joining (NHEJ) DNA repair pathway. With human embryonic kidney (HEK) 293T cells, which can be transfected with high efficiencies, we aim to create a three-parameter reporter cell line with fluorescent tags for three different genes related to cell fate. This cell line would provide several advantages for the study of cell fate, including the ability to quantitatively measure cell state, observe expression heterogeneity among a population of genetically identical cells, and easily monitor fluctuations in expression patterns.
The project is partially complete at this time. This report discusses progress thus far, as well as the challenges faced and the future steps for completing the reporter line.

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2019-05

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

Description

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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RNA-Guided Modification of Synthetic Gene Networks Using CRISPR-Cas Systems

Description

The ability to edit chromosomal regions is an important tool for the study of gene function and the ability to engineer synthetic gene networks. CRISPR-Cas systems, a bacterial RNA-guided immune system against foreign nucleic acids, have recently been engineered for

The ability to edit chromosomal regions is an important tool for the study of gene function and the ability to engineer synthetic gene networks. CRISPR-Cas systems, a bacterial RNA-guided immune system against foreign nucleic acids, have recently been engineered for a plethora of genome engineering and transcriptional regulation applications. Here we employ engineered variants of CRISPR systems in proof-of-principle experiments demonstrating the ability of CRISPR-Cas derived single-DNA-strand cutting enzymes (nickases) to direct host-cell genomic recombination. E.coli is generally regarded as a poorly recombinogenic host with double-stranded DNA breaks being highly lethal. However, CRISPR-guided nickase systems can be easily programmed to make very precise, non-lethal, incisions in genomic regions directing both single reporter gene and larger-scale recombination events deleting up to 36 genes. Genome integrated repetitive elements of variable sizes can be employed as sites for CRISPR induced recombination. We project that single-stranded based editing methodologies can be employed alongside preexisting genome engineering techniques to assist and expedite metabolic engineering and minimalized genome research.

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2014-05

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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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Controlled Epigenetic Silencing and Tandem Histone-Binding Transcriptional Activation

Description

Fusion proteins that specifically interact with biochemical marks on chromosomes represent a new class of synthetic transcriptional regulators that decode cell state information rather than deoxyribose nucleic acid (DNA) sequences. In multicellular organisms, information relevant to cell state, tissue identity,

Fusion proteins that specifically interact with biochemical marks on chromosomes represent a new class of synthetic transcriptional regulators that decode cell state information rather than deoxyribose nucleic acid (DNA) sequences. In multicellular organisms, information relevant to cell state, tissue identity, and oncogenesis is often encoded as biochemical modifications of histones, which are bound to DNA in eukaryotic nuclei and regulate gene expression states. In 2011, Haynes et al. showed that a synthetic regulator called the Polycomb chromatin Transcription Factor (PcTF), a fusion protein that binds methylated histones, reactivated an artificially-silenced luciferase reporter gene. These synthetic transcription activators are derived from the polycomb repressive complex (PRC) and associate with the epigenetic silencing mark H3K27me3 to reactivate the expression of silenced genes. It is demonstrated here that the duration of epigenetic silencing does not perturb reactivation via PcTF fusion proteins. After 96 hours PcTF shows the strongest reactivation activity. A variant called Pc2TF, which has roughly double the affinity for H3K27me3 in vitro, reactivated the silenced luciferase gene by at least 2-fold in living cells.

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Date Created
2019

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Spatial Temporal Patterning and Dynamics of E. Coli Growth with Nutrient Variation

Description

Synthetic biology (SB) has become an important field of science focusing on designing and engineering new biological parts and systems, or re-designing existing biological systems for useful purposes. The dramatic growth of SB throughout the past two decades has not

Synthetic biology (SB) has become an important field of science focusing on designing and engineering new biological parts and systems, or re-designing existing biological systems for useful purposes. The dramatic growth of SB throughout the past two decades has not only provided us numerous achievements, but also brought us more timely and underexplored problems. In SB's entire history, mathematical modeling has always been an indispensable approach to predict the experimental outcomes, improve experimental design and obtain mechanism-understanding of the biological systems. \textit{Escherichia coli} (\textit{E. coli}) is one of the most important experimental platforms, its growth dynamics is the major research objective in this dissertation. Chapter 2 employs a reaction-diffusion model to predict the \textit{E. coli} colony growth on a semi-solid agar plate under multiple controls. In that chapter, a density-dependent diffusion model with non-monotonic growth to capture the colony's non-linear growth profile is introduced. Findings of the new model to experimental data are compared and contrasted with those from other proposed models. In addition, the cross-sectional profile of the colony are computed and compared with experimental data. \textit{E. coli} colony is also used to perform spatial patterns driven by designed gene circuits. In Chapter 3, a gene circuit (MINPAC) and its corresponding pattern formation results are presented. Specifically, a series of partial differential equation (PDE) models are developed to describe the pattern formation driven by the MINPAC circuit. Model simulations of the patterns based on different experimental conditions and numerical analysis of the models to obtain a deeper understanding of the mechanisms are performed and discussed. Mathematical analysis of the simplified models, including traveling wave analysis and local stability analysis, is also presented and used to explore the control strategies of the pattern formation. The interaction between the gene circuit and the host \textit{E. coli} may be crucial and even greatly affect the experimental outcomes. Chapter 4 focuses on the growth feedback between the circuit and the host cell under different nutrient conditions. Two ordinary differential equation (ODE) models are developed to describe such feedback with nutrient variation. Preliminary results on data fitting using both two models and the model dynamical analysis are included.

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2021