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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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Date Created
2015-05

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Engineering cyanobacteria to convert carbon dioxide to building blocks for renewable plastics

Description

The production of monomer compounds for synthesizing plastics has to date been largely restricted to the petroleum-based chemical industry and sugar-based microbial fermentation, limiting its sustainability and economic feasibility. Cyanobacteria have, however, become attractive microbial factories to produce renewable fuels

The production of monomer compounds for synthesizing plastics has to date been largely restricted to the petroleum-based chemical industry and sugar-based microbial fermentation, limiting its sustainability and economic feasibility. Cyanobacteria have, however, become attractive microbial factories to produce renewable fuels and chemicals directly from sunlight and CO2. To explore the feasibility of photosynthetic production of (S)- and (R)-3-hydroxybutyrate (3HB), building-block monomers for synthesizing the biodegradable plastics polyhydroxyalkanoates and precursors to fine chemicals, synthetic metabolic pathways have been constructed, characterized and optimized in the cyanobacterium Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803 (hereafter Synechocystis 6803). Both types of 3HB molecules were produced and readily secreted from Synechocystis cells without over-expression of transporters. Additional inactivation of the competing PHB biosynthesis pathway further promoted the 3HB production. Analysis of the intracellular acetyl-CoA and anion concentrations in the culture media indicated that the phosphate consumption during the photoautotrophic growth and the concomitant elevated acetyl-CoA pool acted as a key driving force for 3HB biosynthesis in Synechocystis. Fine-tuning of the gene expression levels via strategies, including tuning gene copy numbers, promoter engineering and ribosome binding site optimization, proved critical to mitigating metabolic bottlenecks and thus improving the 3HB production. One of the engineered Synechocystis strains, namely R168, was able to produce (R)-3HB to a cumulative titer of ~1600 mg/L, with a peak daily productivity of ~200 mg/L, using light and CO2 as the sole energy and carbon sources, respectively. Additionally, in order to establish a high-efficiency transformation protocol in cyanobacterium Synechocystis 6803, methyltransferase-encoding genes were cloned and expressed to pre-methylate the exogenous DNA before Synechocystis transformation. Eventually, the transformation efficiency was increased by two orders of magnitude in Synechocystis. This research has demonstrated the use of cyanobacteria as cell factories to produce 3HB directly from light and CO2, and developed new synthetic biology tools for cyanobacteria.

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Date Created
2014

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Engineering Escherichia coli for the Novel and Enhanced Biosynthesis of Phenol, Catechol, and Muconic Acid

Description

The engineering of microbial cell factories capable of synthesizing industrially relevant chemical building blocks is an attractive alternative to conventional petrochemical-based production methods. This work focuses on the novel and enhanced biosynthesis of phenol, catechol, and muconic acid (MA). Although

The engineering of microbial cell factories capable of synthesizing industrially relevant chemical building blocks is an attractive alternative to conventional petrochemical-based production methods. This work focuses on the novel and enhanced biosynthesis of phenol, catechol, and muconic acid (MA). Although the complete biosynthesis from glucose has been previously demonstrated for all three compounds, established production routes suffer from notable inherent limitations. Here, multiple pathways to the same three products were engineered, each incorporating unique enzyme chemistries and/or stemming from different endogenous precursors. In the case of phenol, two novel pathways were constructed and comparatively evaluated, with titers reaching as high as 377 ± 14 mg/L at a glucose yield of 35.7 ± 0.8 mg/g. In the case of catechol, three novel pathways were engineered with titers reaching 100 ± 2 mg/L. Finally, in the case of MA, four novel pathways were engineered with maximal titers reaching 819 ± 44 mg/L at a glucose yield of 40.9 ± 2.2 mg/g. Furthermore, the unique flexibility with respect to engineering multiple pathways to the same product arises in part because these compounds are common intermediates in aromatic degradation pathways. Expanding on the novel pathway engineering efforts, a synthetic ‘metabolic funnel’ was subsequently constructed for phenol and MA, wherein multiple pathways were expressed in parallel to maximize carbon flux toward the final product. Using this novel ‘funneling’ strategy, maximal phenol and MA titers exceeding 0.5 and 3 g/L, respectively, were achieved, representing the highest achievable production metrics products reported to date.

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Date Created
2017

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Engineering and Investigating the Effects of Renewable Chemical Production in Bacteria

Description

Metabolic engineering of bacteria has become a viable technique as a sustainable and efficient method for the production of biochemicals. Two main goals were explored: investigating styrene tolerance genes in E. coli and engineering cyanobacteria for the high yield production

Metabolic engineering of bacteria has become a viable technique as a sustainable and efficient method for the production of biochemicals. Two main goals were explored: investigating styrene tolerance genes in E. coli and engineering cyanobacteria for the high yield production of L-serine. In the first study, genes that were shown to be highly differentially expressed in E. coli upon styrene exposure were further investigated by testing the effects of their deletion and overexpression on styrene tolerance and growth. It was found that plsX, a gene responsible for the phospholipid formation in membranes, had the most promising results when overexpressed at 10 µM IPTG, with a relative OD600 of 706 ± 117% at 175 mg/L styrene when compared to the control plasmid at the same concentration. This gene is likely to be effective target when engineering styrene- and other aromatic-producing strains, increasing titers by reducing their cytotoxicity.In the second study, the goal is to engineer the cyanobacterium Synechococcus sp. PCC 7002 for the overproduction of L-serine. As a robust, photosynthetic bacteria, it has potential for being used in such-rich states to capture CO2 and produce industrially relevant products. In order to increase L-serine titers, a key degradation gene, ilvA, must be removed. While ilvA is responsible for degrading L-serine into pyruvate, it is also responsible for initiating the only known pathway for the production of isoleucine. Herein, we constructed a plasmid containing the native A0730 gene in order to investigate its potential to restore isoleucine production. If functional, a Synechococcus sp. PCC 7002 ΔilvA strain can then be engineered with minimal effects on growth and an expected increase in L-serine accumulation.

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Created

Date Created
2021

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Dilly Final Project (Spring 2022)

Description

Industries and research utilizing genetically-engineered organisms are often subject to strict containment requirements such as physical isolation or specialized equipment to prevent an unintended escape. A relatively new field of research looks for ways to engineer intrinsic containment techniques- genetic

Industries and research utilizing genetically-engineered organisms are often subject to strict containment requirements such as physical isolation or specialized equipment to prevent an unintended escape. A relatively new field of research looks for ways to engineer intrinsic containment techniques- genetic safeguards that prevent an organism from surviving outside of specific conditions. As interest in this field has grown over the last few decades, researchers in molecular and synthetic biology have discovered many novel ways to accomplish this containment, but the current literature faces some ambiguity and overlap in the ways they describe various biocontainment methods. Additionally, the way publications report the robustness of the techniques they test is inconsistent, making it uncertain how regulators could assess the safety and efficacy of these methods if they are eventually to be used in practical, consumer applications. This project organizes and clarifies the descriptions of these techniques within an interactive flowchart, linking to definitions and references to publications on each within an Excel table. For each reference, variables such as the containment approach, testing methods, and results reported are compiled, to illustrate the varying degrees to which these techniques are tested.

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Agent

Created

Date Created
2022-05

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Containment Flowchart With Links

Description

Industries and research utilizing genetically-engineered organisms are often subject to strict containment requirements such as physical isolation or specialized equipment to prevent an unintended escape. A relatively new field of research looks for ways to engineer intrinsic containment techniques- genetic

Industries and research utilizing genetically-engineered organisms are often subject to strict containment requirements such as physical isolation or specialized equipment to prevent an unintended escape. A relatively new field of research looks for ways to engineer intrinsic containment techniques- genetic safeguards that prevent an organism from surviving outside of specific conditions. As interest in this field has grown over the last few decades, researchers in molecular and synthetic biology have discovered many novel ways to accomplish this containment, but the current literature faces some ambiguity and overlap in the ways they describe various biocontainment methods. Additionally, the way publications report the robustness of the techniques they test is inconsistent, making it uncertain how regulators could assess the safety and efficacy of these methods if they are eventually to be used in practical, consumer applications. This project organizes and clarifies the descriptions of these techniques within an interactive flowchart, linking to definitions and references to publications on each within an Excel table. For each reference, variables such as the containment approach, testing methods, and results reported are compiled, to illustrate the varying degrees to which these techniques are tested.

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Agent

Created

Date Created
2022-05

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Literature Review and Definitions

Description

Industries and research utilizing genetically-engineered organisms are often subject to strict containment requirements such as physical isolation or specialized equipment to prevent an unintended escape. A relatively new field of research looks for ways to engineer intrinsic containment techniques- genetic

Industries and research utilizing genetically-engineered organisms are often subject to strict containment requirements such as physical isolation or specialized equipment to prevent an unintended escape. A relatively new field of research looks for ways to engineer intrinsic containment techniques- genetic safeguards that prevent an organism from surviving outside of specific conditions. As interest in this field has grown over the last few decades, researchers in molecular and synthetic biology have discovered many novel ways to accomplish this containment, but the current literature faces some ambiguity and overlap in the ways they describe various biocontainment methods. Additionally, the way publications report the robustness of the techniques they test is inconsistent, making it uncertain how regulators could assess the safety and efficacy of these methods if they are eventually to be used in practical, consumer applications. This project organizes and clarifies the descriptions of these techniques within an interactive flowchart, linking to definitions and references to publications on each within an Excel table. For each reference, variables such as the containment approach, testing methods, and results reported are compiled, to illustrate the varying degrees to which these techniques are tested.

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Agent

Created

Date Created
2022-05