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

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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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Date Created
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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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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Generation of isogenic pluripotent stem cell lines for study of APOE, an Alzheimer’s risk factor

Description

Alzheimer’s disease (AD), despite over a century of research, does not have a clearly defined pathogenesis for the sporadic form that makes up the majority of disease incidence. A variety of correlative risk factors have been identified, including the three

Alzheimer’s disease (AD), despite over a century of research, does not have a clearly defined pathogenesis for the sporadic form that makes up the majority of disease incidence. A variety of correlative risk factors have been identified, including the three isoforms of apolipoprotein E (ApoE), a cholesterol transport protein in the central nervous system. ApoE ε3 is the wild-type variant with no effect on risk. ApoE ε2, the protective and most rare variant, reduces risk of developing AD by 40%. ApoE ε4, the risk variant, increases risk by 3.2-fold and 14.9-fold for heterozygous and homozygous representation respectively. Study of these isoforms has been historically complex, but the advent of human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSC) provides the means for highly controlled, longitudinal in vitro study. The effect of ApoE variants can be further elucidated using this platform by generating isogenic hiPSC lines through precise genetic modification, the objective of this research. As the difference between alleles is determined by two cytosine-thymine polymorphisms, a specialized CRISPR/Cas9 system for direct base conversion was able to be successfully employed. The base conversion method for transitioning from the ε3 to ε2 allele was first verified using the HEK293 cell line as a model with delivery via electroporation. Following this verification, the transfection method was optimized using two hiPSC lines derived from ε4/ε4 patients, with a lipofection technique ultimately resulting in successful base conversion at the same site verified in the HEK293 model. Additional research performed included characterization of the pre-modification genotype with respect to likely off-target sites and methods of isolating clonal variants.

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Created

Date Created
2017

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Construction of gene circuits to control cell behavior

Description

Synthetic biology is a novel method that reengineers functional parts of natural genes of interest to build new biomolecular devices able to express as designed. There is increasing interest in synthetic biology due to wide potential applications in various fields

Synthetic biology is a novel method that reengineers functional parts of natural genes of interest to build new biomolecular devices able to express as designed. There is increasing interest in synthetic biology due to wide potential applications in various fields such as clinics and fuel production. However, there are still many challenges in synthetic biology. For example, many natural biological processes are poorly understood, and these could be more thoroughly studied through model synthetic gene networks. Additionally, since synthetic biology applications may have numerous design constraints, more inducer systems should be developed to satisfy different requirements for genetic design.

This thesis covers two topics. First, I attempt to generate stochastic resonance (SR) in a biological system. Synthetic bistable systems were chosen because the inducer range in which they exhibit bistability can satisfy one of the three requirements of SR: a weak periodic force is unable to make the transition between states happen. I synthesized several different bistable systems, including toggle switches and self-activators, to select systems matching another requirement: the system has a clear threshold between the two energy states. Their bistability was verified and characterized. At the same time, I attempted to figure out the third requirement for SR – an effective noise serving as the stochastic force – through one of the most widespread toggles, the mutual inhibition toggle, in both yeast and E. coli. A mathematic model for SR was written and adjusted.

Secondly, I began work on designing a new genetic system capable of responding to pulsed magnetic fields. The operators responding to pulsed magnetic stimuli in the rpoH promoter were extracted and reorganized. Different versions of the rpoH promoter were generated and tested, and their varying responsiveness to magnetic fields was recorded. In order to improve efficiency and produce better operators, a directed evolution method was applied with the help of a CRISPR-dCas9 nicking system. The best performing promoters thus far show a five-fold difference in gene expression between trials with and without the magnetic field.

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Agent

Created

Date Created
2016

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Increased Enrichment and Generation of Isogenic Lines Using a Transient Reporter for Editing Enrichment

Description

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) affects over 5 million individuals each year in the United States. Furthermore, most cases of AD are sporadic, making it extremely difficult to model and study in vitro. CRISPR/Cas9 and base editing technologies have been of recent

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) affects over 5 million individuals each year in the United States. Furthermore, most cases of AD are sporadic, making it extremely difficult to model and study in vitro. CRISPR/Cas9 and base editing technologies have been of recent interest because of their ability to create single nucleotide edits at nearly any genomic sequence using a Cas9 protein and a guide RNA (sgRNA). Currently, there is no available phenotype to differentiate edited cells from unedited cells. Past research has employed fluorescent proteins bound to Cas9 proteins to attempt to enrich for edited cells, however, these methods are only reporters of transfection (RoT) and are no indicative of actual base-editing occurring. Thus, this study proposes a transient reporter for editing enrichment (TREE) and Cas9-mediated adenosine TREE (CasMasTREE) which use plasmids to co-transfect with CRISPR/Cas9 technologies to serve as an indicator of base-editing. Specifically, TREE features a blue fluorescent protein (BFP) mutant that, upon a C-T conversion, changes the emission spectrum to a green fluorescent protein (GFP). CasMasTREE features a mCherry and GFP protein separated by a stop codon which can be negated using an A-G conversion. By employing a sgRNA that targets one of the TREE plasmids and at least one genomic site, cells can be sorted for GFP(+) cells. Using these methods, base-edited isogenic hiPSC line generation using TREE (BIG-TREE) was created to generate isogenic hiPSC lines with AD-relevant edits. For example, BIG-TREE demonstrates the capability of converting Apolipoprotein E (APOE), a gene associated with AD-risk development, wildtype (3/3) into another isoform, APOE2/2, to create isogenic hiPSC lines. The capabilities of TREE are vast and can be applied to generate various models of diseases with specific genomic edits.

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Date Created
2020