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CRISPR Based Synthetic Transcription Factors: The Future of Transcriptional Therapeutics

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Pinpoint control over endogenous gene expression in vivo has long been a fevered dream for clinicians and researchers alike. With the recent repurposing of programmable, RNA-guided DNA endonucleases from the CRISPR bacterial immune system, this dream is becoming a powerful

Pinpoint control over endogenous gene expression in vivo has long been a fevered dream for clinicians and researchers alike. With the recent repurposing of programmable, RNA-guided DNA endonucleases from the CRISPR bacterial immune system, this dream is becoming a powerful reality. Engineered CRISPR based transcriptional regulators have enabled researchers to perturb endogenous gene expression in vivo, allowing for the therapeutic reprogramming of cell and tissue behavior. However, for this technology to be of maximal use, a variety of technological hurdles still need to be addressed. Here, we discuss recent advances and integrative strategies that can help pave the way towards a new class of transcriptional therapeutics.

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2019-05

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Validating a Model for Catalytic Function in 9°N Polymerase Based on Structural Conservation

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Nucleic acids encode the information required to create life, and polymerases are the gatekeepers charged with maintaining the storage and flow of this genetic information. Synthetic biologists utilize this universal property to modify organisms and other systems to create unique

Nucleic acids encode the information required to create life, and polymerases are the gatekeepers charged with maintaining the storage and flow of this genetic information. Synthetic biologists utilize this universal property to modify organisms and other systems to create unique traits or improve the function of others. One of the many realms in synthetic biology involves the study of biopolymers that do not exist naturally, which is known as xenobiology. Although life depends on two biopolymers for genetic storage, it may be possible that alternative molecules (xenonucleic acids – XNAs), could be used in their place in either a living or non-living system. However, implementation of an XNA based system requires the development of polymerases that can encode and decode information stored in these artificial polymers. A strategy called directed evolution is used to modify or alter the function of a protein of interest, but identifying mutations that can modify polymerase function is made problematic by their size and overall complexity. To reduce the amount of sequence space that needs to be samples when attempting to identify polymerase variants, we can try to make informed decisions about which amino acid residues may have functional roles in catalysis. An analysis of Family B polymerases has shown that residues which are involved in substrate specificity are often highly conserved both at the sequence and structure level. In order to validate the hypothesis that a strong correlation exists between structural conservation and catalytic activity, we have selected and mutated residues in the 9°N polymerase using a loss of function mutagenesis strategy based on a computational analysis of several homologues from a diverse range of taxa. Improvement of these models will hopefully lead to quicker identification of loci which are ideal engineering targets.

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2015-05

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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