Optogenetic lac operon to control chemical and protein production in Escherichia coli with light.
Abstract: Control of the lac operon with IPTG has been used for decades to regulate gene expression in E. coli for countless applications, including metabolic engineering and recombinant protein production. However, optogenetics offers unique capabilities such as easy tunability, reversibility, dynamic induction strength, and spatial control that are difficult to obtain with chemical inducers. We developed an optogenetic lac operon in a series of circuits we call OptoLAC. With these circuits, we control gene expression from various IPTG-inducible promoters using only blue light. Applying them to metabolic engineering improves mevalonate and isobutanol production by 24% and 27% respectively, compared to IPTG induction, in light-controlled fermentations scalable to at least 2L bioreactors. Furthermore, OptoLAC circuits enable light control of recombinant protein production, reaching yields comparable to IPTG induction, but with enhanced tunability of expression and spatial control. OptoLAC circuits are potentially useful to confer light controls over other cell functions originally engineered to be IPTG-inducible.