Showing 1 - 25 of 39 results
Optogenetic control of the Bicoid morphogen reveals fast and slow modes of gap gene regulation.
Developmental patterning networks are regulated by multiple inputs and feedback connections that rapidly reshape gene expression, limiting the information that can be gained solely from slow genetic perturbations. Here we show that fast optogenetic stimuli, real-time transcriptional reporters, and a simplified genetic background can be combined to reveal the kinetics of gene expression downstream of a developmental transcription factor in vivo. We engineer light-controlled versions of the Bicoid transcription factor and study their effects on downstream gap genes in embryos. Our results recapitulate known relationships, including rapid Bicoid-dependent transcription of giant and hunchback and delayed repression of Krüppel. In addition, we find that the posterior pattern of knirps exhibits a quick but inverted response to Bicoid perturbation, suggesting a noncanonical role for Bicoid in directly suppressing knirps transcription. Acute modulation of transcription factor concentration while recording output gene activity represents a powerful approach for studying developmental gene networks in vivo.
Substratum stiffness regulates Erk signaling dynamics through receptor-level control.
The EGFR/Erk pathway is triggered by extracellular ligand stimulation, leading to stimulus-dependent dynamics of pathway activity. Although mechanical properties of the microenvironment also affect Erk activity, their effects on Erk signaling dynamics are poorly understood. Here, we characterize how the stiffness of the underlying substratum affects Erk signaling dynamics in mammary epithelial cells. We find that soft microenvironments attenuate Erk signaling, both at steady state and in response to epidermal growth factor (EGF) stimulation. Optogenetic manipulation at multiple signaling nodes reveals that intracellular signal transmission is largely unaffected by substratum stiffness. Instead, we find that soft microenvironments decrease EGF receptor (EGFR) expression and alter the amount and spatial distribution of EGF binding at cell membranes. Our data demonstrate that the mechanical microenvironment tunes Erk signaling dynamics via receptor-ligand interactions, underscoring how multiple microenvironmental signals are jointly processed through a highly conserved pathway that regulates tissue development, homeostasis, and disease progression.
Stress ball morphogenesis: How the lizard builds its lung.
The function of the lung is closely coupled to its structural anatomy, which varies greatly across vertebrates. Although architecturally simple, a complex pattern of airflow is thought to be achieved in the lizard lung due to its cavernous central lumen and honeycomb-shaped wall. We find that the wall of the lizard lung is generated from an initially smooth epithelial sheet, which is pushed through holes in a hexagonal smooth muscle meshwork by forces from fluid pressure, similar to a stress ball. Combining transcriptomics with time-lapse imaging reveals that the hexagonal meshwork self-assembles in response to circumferential and axial stresses downstream of pressure. A computational model predicts the pressure-driven changes in epithelial topology, which we probe using optogenetically driven contraction of 3D-printed engineered muscle. These results reveal the physical principles used to sculpt the unusual architecture of the lizard lung, which could be exploited as a novel strategy to engineer tissues.
A synthetic gene circuit for imaging-free detection of signaling pulses.
Cells employ intracellular signaling pathways to sense and respond to changes in their external environment. In recent years, live-cell biosensors have revealed complex pulsatile dynamics in many pathways, but studies of these signaling dynamics are limited by the necessity of live-cell imaging at high spatiotemporal resolution. Here, we describe an approach to infer pulsatile signaling dynamics from a single measurement in fixed cells using a pulse-detecting gene circuit. We computationally screened for circuits with the capability to selectively detect signaling pulses, revealing an incoherent feedforward topology that robustly performs this computation. We implemented the motif experimentally for the Erk signaling pathway using a single engineered transcription factor and fluorescent protein reporter. Our "recorder of Erk activity dynamics" (READer) responds sensitively to spontaneous and stimulus-driven Erk pulses. READer circuits open the door to permanently labeling transient, dynamic cell populations to elucidate the mechanistic underpinnings and biological consequences of signaling dynamics.
Optogenetic control of the Bicoid morphogen reveals fast and slow modes of gap gene regulation.
Developmental patterning networks are regulated by multiple inputs and feedback connections that rapidly reshape gene expression, limiting the information that can be gained solely from slow genetic perturbations. Here we show that fast optogenetic stimuli, real-time transcriptional reporters, and a simplified genetic background can be combined to reveal quantitative regulatory dynamics from a complex genetic network in vivo. We engineer light-controlled variants of the Bicoid transcription factor and study their effects on downstream gap genes in embryos. Our results recapitulate known relationships, including rapid Bicoid-dependent expression of giant and hunchback and delayed repression of Krüppel. In contrast, we find that the posterior pattern of knirps exhibits a quick but inverted response to Bicoid perturbation, suggesting a previously unreported role for Bicoid in suppressing knirps expression. Acute modulation of transcription factor concentration while simultaneously recording output gene activity represents a powerful approach for studying how gene circuit elements are coupled to cell identification and complex body pattern formation in vivo.
Positive feedback between the T cell kinase Zap70 and its substrate LAT acts as a clustering-dependent signaling switch.
Protein clustering is pervasive in cell signaling, yet how signaling from higher-order assemblies differs from simpler forms of molecular organization is still poorly understood. We present an optogenetic approach to switch between oligomers and heterodimers with a single point mutation. We apply this system to study signaling from the kinase Zap70 and its substrate linker for activation of T cells (LAT), proteins that normally form membrane-localized condensates during T cell activation. We find that fibroblasts expressing synthetic Zap70:LAT clusters activate downstream signaling, whereas one-to-one heterodimers do not. We provide evidence that clusters harbor a positive feedback loop among Zap70, LAT, and Src-family kinases that binds phosphorylated LAT and further activates Zap70. Finally, we extend our optogenetic approach to the native T cell signaling context, where light-induced LAT clustering is sufficient to drive a calcium response. Our study reveals a specific signaling function for protein clusters and identifies a biochemical circuit that robustly senses protein oligomerization state.
Temporal integration of inductive cues on the way to gastrulation.
Markers for the endoderm and mesoderm germ layers are commonly expressed together in the early embryo, potentially reflecting cells' ability to explore potential fates before fully committing. It remains unclear when commitment to a single-germ layer is reached and how it is impacted by external signals. Here, we address this important question in Drosophila, a convenient model system in which mesodermal and endodermal fates are associated with distinct cellular movements during gastrulation. Systematically applying endoderm-inducing extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) signals to the ventral medial embryo-which normally only receives a mesoderm-inducing cue-reveals a critical time window during which mesodermal cell movements and gene expression are suppressed by proendoderm signaling. We identify the ERK target gene huckebein (hkb) as the main cause of the ventral furrow suppression and use computational modeling to show that Hkb repression of the mesoderm-associated gene snail is sufficient to account for a broad range of transcriptional and morphogenetic effects. Our approach, pairing precise signaling perturbations with observation of transcriptional dynamics and cell movements, provides a general framework for dissecting the complexities of combinatorial tissue patterning.
Dynamics and heterogeneity of Erk-induced immediate-early gene expression.
Many canonical signaling pathways exhibit complex time-varying responses, yet how minutes-timescale pulses of signaling interact with the dynamics of transcription and gene expression remains poorly understood. Erk-induced immediate early gene (IEG) expression is a model of this interface, exemplifying both dynamic pathway activity and a rapid, potent transcriptional response. Here, we quantitatively characterize IEG expression downstream of dynamic Erk stimuli in individual cells. We find that IEG expression responds rapidly to acute changes in Erk activity, but only in a sub-population of stimulus-responsive cells. We find that while Erk activity partially predicts IEG expression, a majority of response heterogeneity is independent of Erk and can be rapidly tuned by different mitogenic stimuli and parallel signaling pathways. We extend our findings to an in vivo context, the mouse epidermis, where we observe heterogenous immediate-early gene accumulation in both fixed tissue and single-cell RNA-sequencing data. Our results demonstrate that signaling dynamics can be faithfully transmitted to gene expression and suggest that the signaling-responsive population is an important parameter for interpreting gene expression responses.
Optogenetic Amplification Circuits for Light-Induced Metabolic Control.
Dynamic control of microbial metabolism is an effective strategy to improve chemical production in fermentations. While dynamic control is most often implemented using chemical inducers, optogenetics offers an attractive alternative due to the high tunability and reversibility afforded by light. However, a major concern of applying optogenetics in metabolic engineering is the risk of insufficient light penetration at high cell densities, especially in large bioreactors. Here, we present a new series of optogenetic circuits we call OptoAMP, which amplify the transcriptional response to blue light by as much as 23-fold compared to the basal circuit (OptoEXP). These circuits show as much as a 41-fold induction between dark and light conditions, efficient activation at light duty cycles as low as ∼1%, and strong homogeneous light-induction in bioreactors of at least 5 L, with limited illumination at cell densities above 40 OD600. We demonstrate the ability of OptoAMP circuits to control engineered metabolic pathways in novel three-phase fermentations using different light schedules to control enzyme expression and improve production of lactic acid, isobutanol, and naringenin. These circuits expand the applicability of optogenetics to metabolic engineering.
Signaling, Deconstructed: Using Optogenetics to Dissect and Direct Information Flow in Biological Systems.
Cells receive enormous amounts of information from their environment. How they act on this information-by migrating, expressing genes, or relaying signals to other cells-comprises much of the regulatory and self-organizational complexity found across biology. The "parts list" involved in cell signaling is generally well established, but how do these parts work together to decode signals and produce appropriate responses? This fundamental question is increasingly being addressed with optogenetic tools: light-sensitive proteins that enable biologists to manipulate the interaction, localization, and activity state of proteins with high spatial and temporal precision. In this review, we summarize how optogenetics is being used in the pursuit of an answer to this question, outlining the current suite of optogenetic tools available to the researcher and calling attention to studies that increase our understanding of and improve our ability to engineer biology. Expected final online publication date for the Annual Review of Biomedical Engineering, Volume 23 is June 2021. Please see http://www.annualreviews.org/page/journal/pubdates for revised estimates.
Dynamical Modeling of Optogenetic Circuits in Yeast for Metabolic Engineering Applications.
Dynamic control of engineered microbes using light via optogenetics has been demonstrated as an effective strategy for improving the yield of biofuels, chemicals, and other products. An advantage of using light to manipulate microbial metabolism is the relative simplicity of interfacing biological and computer systems, thereby enabling in silico control of the microbe. Using this strategy for control and optimization of product yield requires an understanding of how the microbe responds in real-time to the light inputs. Toward this end, we present mechanistic models of a set of yeast optogenetic circuits. We show how these models can predict short- and long-time response to varying light inputs and how they are amenable to use with model predictive control (the industry standard among advanced control algorithms). These models reveal dynamics characterized by time-scale separation of different circuit components that affect the steady and transient levels of the protein under control of the circuit. Ultimately, this work will help enable real-time control and optimization tools for improving yield and consistency in the production of biofuels and chemicals using microbial fermentations.
Design and Characterization of Rapid Optogenetic Circuits for Dynamic Control in Yeast Metabolic Engineering.
The use of optogenetics in metabolic engineering for light-controlled microbial chemical production raises the prospect of utilizing control and optimization techniques routinely deployed in traditional chemical manufacturing. However, such mechanisms require well-characterized, customizable tools that respond fast enough to be used as real-time inputs during fermentations. Here, we present OptoINVRT7, a new rapid optogenetic inverter circuit to control gene expression in Saccharomyces cerevisiae. The circuit induces gene expression in only 0.6 h after switching cells from light to darkness, which is at least 6 times faster than previous OptoINVRT optogenetic circuits used for chemical production. In addition, we introduce an engineered inducible GAL1 promoter (PGAL1-S), which is stronger than any constitutive or inducible promoter commonly used in yeast. Combining OptoINVRT7 with PGAL1-S achieves strong and light-tunable levels of gene expression with as much as 132.9 ± 22.6-fold induction in darkness. The high performance of this new optogenetic circuit in controlling metabolic enzymes boosts production of lactic acid and isobutanol by more than 50% and 15%, respectively. The strength and controllability of OptoINVRT7 and PGAL1-S open the door to applying process control tools to engineered metabolisms to improve robustness and yields in microbial fermentations for chemical production.
Clustering-based positive feedback between a kinase and its substrate enables effective T-cell receptor signaling.
Protein clusters and condensates are pervasive in mammalian signaling. Yet how the signaling capacity of higher-order assemblies differs from simpler forms of molecular organization is still poorly understood. Here, we present an optogenetic approach to switch between light-induced clusters and simple protein heterodimers with a single point mutation. We apply this system to study how clustering affects signaling from the kinase Zap70 and its substrate LAT, proteins that normally form membrane-localized clusters during T cell activation. We find that light-induced clusters of LAT and Zap70 trigger potent activation of downstream signaling pathways even in non-T cells, whereas one-to-one dimers do not. We provide evidence that clusters harbor a local positive feedback loop between three components: Zap70, LAT, and Src-family kinases that bind to phosphorylated LAT and further activate Zap70. Overall, our study provides evidence for a specific role of protein condensates in cell signaling, and identifies a simple biochemical circuit that can robustly sense protein oligomerization state.
Unraveling the Mechanism of a LOV Domain Optogenetic Sensor: A Glutamine Lever Induces Unfolding of the Jα Helix.
Light-activated protein domains provide a convenient, modular, and genetically encodable sensor for optogenetics and optobiology. Although these domains have now been deployed in numerous systems, the precise mechanism of photoactivation and the accompanying structural dynamics that modulate output domain activity remain to be fully elucidated. In the C-terminal light, oxygen, voltage (LOV) domain of plant phototropins (LOV2), blue light activation leads to formation of an adduct between a conserved Cys residue and the embedded FMN chromophore, rotation of a conserved Gln (Q513), and unfolding of a helix (Jα-helix) which is coupled to the output partner. In the present work, we focus on the allosteric pathways leading to Jα helix unfolding in Avena sativa LOV2 (AsLOV2) using an interdisciplinary approach involving molecular dynamics simulations extending to 7 μs, time-resolved infrared spectroscopy, solution NMR spectroscopy, and in-cell optogenetic experiments. In the dark state, the side chain of N414 is hydrogen bonded to the backbone N-H of Q513. The simulations predict a lever-like motion of Q513 after Cys adduct formation resulting in loss of the interaction between the side chain of N414 and the backbone C=O of Q513, and formation of a transient hydrogen bond between the Q513 and N414 side chains. The central role of N414 in signal transduction was evaluated by site-directed mutagenesis supporting a direct link between Jα helix unfolding dynamics and the cellular function of the Zdk2-AsLOV2 optogenetic construct. Through this multifaceted approach, we show that Q513 and N414 are critical mediators of protein structural dynamics, linking the ultrafast (sub-ps) excitation of the FMN chromophore to the microsecond conformational changes that result in photoreceptor activation and biological function.
Engineering combinatorial and dynamic decoders using synthetic immediate-early genes.
Many cell- and tissue-level functions are coordinated by intracellular signaling pathways that trigger the expression of context-specific target genes. Yet the input-output relationships that link pathways to the genes they activate are incompletely understood. Mapping the pathway-decoding logic of natural target genes could also provide a basis for engineering novel signal-decoding circuits. Here we report the construction of synthetic immediate-early genes (SynIEGs), target genes of Erk signaling that implement complex, user-defined regulation and can be monitored by using live-cell biosensors to track their transcription and translation. We demonstrate the power of this approach by confirming Erk duration-sensing by FOS, elucidating how the BTG2 gene is differentially regulated by external stimuli, and designing a synthetic immediate-early gene that selectively responds to the combination of growth factor and DNA damage stimuli. SynIEGs pave the way toward engineering molecular circuits that decode signaling dynamics and combinations across a broad range of cellular contexts.
Development of light-responsive protein binding in the monobody non-immunoglobulin scaffold.
Monobodies are synthetic non-immunoglobulin customizable protein binders invaluable to basic and applied research, and of considerable potential as future therapeutics and diagnostic tools. The ability to reversibly control their binding activity to their targets on demand would significantly expand their applications in biotechnology, medicine, and research. Here we present, as proof-of-principle, the development of a light-controlled monobody (OptoMB) that works in vitro and in cells and whose affinity for its SH2-domain target exhibits a 330-fold shift in binding affinity upon illumination. We demonstrate that our αSH2-OptoMB can be used to purify SH2-tagged proteins directly from crude E. coli extract, achieving 99.8% purity and over 40% yield in a single purification step. By virtue of their ability to be designed to bind any protein of interest, OptoMBs have the potential to find new powerful applications as light-switchable binders of untagged proteins with the temporal and spatial precision afforded by light.
Optogenetic control of protein binding using light-switchable nanobodies.
A growing number of optogenetic tools have been developed to reversibly control binding between two engineered protein domains. In contrast, relatively few tools confer light-switchable binding to a generic target protein of interest. Such a capability would offer substantial advantages, enabling photoswitchable binding to endogenous target proteins in cells or light-based protein purification in vitro. Here, we report the development of opto-nanobodies (OptoNBs), a versatile class of chimeric photoswitchable proteins whose binding to proteins of interest can be enhanced or inhibited upon blue light illumination. We find that OptoNBs are suitable for a range of applications including reversibly binding to endogenous intracellular targets, modulating signaling pathway activity, and controlling binding to purified protein targets in vitro. This work represents a step towards programmable photoswitchable regulation of a wide variety of target proteins.
Optogenetic Rescue of a Patterning Mutant.
Animal embryos are patterned by a handful of highly conserved inductive signals. Yet, in most cases, it is unknown which pattern features (i.e., spatial gradients or temporal dynamics) are required to support normal development. An ideal experiment to address this question would be to "paint" arbitrary synthetic signaling patterns on "blank canvas" embryos to dissect their requirements. Here, we demonstrate exactly this capability by combining optogenetic control of Ras/extracellular signal-related kinase (ERK) signaling with the genetic loss of the receptor tyrosine-kinase-driven terminal signaling patterning in early Drosophila embryos. Blue-light illumination at the embryonic termini for 90 min was sufficient to rescue normal development, generating viable larvae and fertile adults from an otherwise lethal terminal signaling mutant. Optogenetic rescue was possible even using a simple, all-or-none light input that reduced the gradient of Erk activity and eliminated spatiotemporal differences in terminal gap gene expression. Systematically varying illumination parameters further revealed that at least three distinct developmental programs are triggered at different signaling thresholds and that the morphogenetic movements of gastrulation are robust to a 3-fold variation in the posterior pattern width. These results open the door to controlling tissue organization with simple optical stimuli, providing new tools to probe natural developmental processes, create synthetic tissues with defined organization, or directly correct the patterning errors that underlie developmental defects.
A Live-Cell Screen for Altered Erk Dynamics Reveals Principles of Proliferative Control.
Complex, time-varying responses have been observed widely in cell signaling, but how specific dynamics are generated or regulated is largely unknown. One major obstacle has been that high-throughput screens are typically incompatible with the live-cell assays used to monitor dynamics. Here, we address this challenge by screening a library of 429 kinase inhibitors and monitoring extracellular-regulated kinase (Erk) activity over 5 h in more than 80,000 single primary mouse keratinocytes. Our screen reveals both known and uncharacterized modulators of Erk dynamics, including inhibitors of non-epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) receptor tyrosine kinases (RTKs) that increase Erk pulse frequency and overall activity. Using drug treatment and direct optogenetic control, we demonstrate that drug-induced changes to Erk dynamics alter the conditions under which cells proliferate. Our work opens the door to high-throughput screens using live-cell biosensors and reveals that cell proliferation integrates information from Erk dynamics as well as additional permissive cues.
Optimizing photoswitchable MEK.
Optogenetic approaches are transforming quantitative studies of cell-signaling systems. A recently developed photoswitchable mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase 1 (MEK1) enzyme (psMEK) short-circuits the highly conserved Extracellular Signal-Regulated Kinase (ERK)-signaling cascade at the most proximal step of effector kinase activation. However, since this optogenetic tool relies on phosphorylation-mimicking substitutions in the activation loop of MEK, its catalytic activity is predicted to be substantially lower than that of wild-type MEK that has been phosphorylated at these residues. Here, we present evidence that psMEK indeed has suboptimal functionality in vivo and propose a strategy to circumvent this limitation by harnessing gain-of-function, destabilizing mutations in MEK. Specifically, we demonstrate that combining phosphomimetic mutations with additional mutations in MEK, chosen for their activating potential, restores maximal kinase activity in vitro. We establish that this modification can be tuned by the choice of the destabilizing mutation and does not interfere with reversible activation of psMEK in vivo in both Drosophila and zebrafish. To illustrate the types of perturbations enabled by optimized psMEK, we use it to deliver pulses of ERK activation during zebrafish embryogenesis, revealing rheostat-like responses of an ERK-dependent morphogenetic event.
Deconstructing and repurposing the light-regulated interplay between Arabidopsis phytochromes and interacting factors.
Phytochrome photoreceptors mediate adaptive responses of plants to red and far-red light. These responses generally entail light-regulated association between phytochromes and other proteins, among them the phytochrome-interacting factors (PIF). The interaction with Arabidopsis thaliana phytochrome B (AtPhyB) localizes to the bipartite APB motif of the A. thaliana PIFs (AtPIF). To address a dearth of quantitative interaction data, we construct and analyze numerous AtPIF3/6 variants. Red-light-activated binding is predominantly mediated by the APB N-terminus, whereas the C-terminus modulates binding and underlies the differential affinity of AtPIF3 and AtPIF6. We identify AtPIF variants of reduced size, monomeric or homodimeric state, and with AtPhyB affinities between 10 and 700 nM. Optogenetically deployed in mammalian cells, the AtPIF variants drive light-regulated gene expression and membrane recruitment, in certain cases reducing basal activity and enhancing regulatory response. Moreover, our results provide hitherto unavailable quantitative insight into the AtPhyB:AtPIF interaction underpinning vital light-dependent responses in plants.
Light-based control of metabolic flux through assembly of synthetic organelles.
To maximize a desired product, metabolic engineers typically express enzymes to high, constant levels. Yet, permanent pathway activation can have undesirable consequences including competition with essential pathways and accumulation of toxic intermediates. Faced with similar challenges, natural metabolic systems compartmentalize enzymes into organelles or post-translationally induce activity under certain conditions. Here we report that optogenetic control can be used to extend compartmentalization and dynamic control to engineered metabolisms in yeast. We describe a suite of optogenetic tools to trigger assembly and disassembly of metabolically active enzyme clusters. Using the deoxyviolacein biosynthesis pathway as a model system, we find that light-switchable clustering can enhance product formation six-fold and product specificity 18-fold by decreasing the concentration of intermediate metabolites and reducing flux through competing pathways. Inducible compartmentalization of enzymes into synthetic organelles can thus be used to control engineered metabolic pathways, limit intermediates and favor the formation of desired products.
Signaling Dynamics Control Cell Fate in the Early Drosophila Embryo.
The Erk mitogen-activated protein kinase plays diverse roles in animal development. Its widespread reuse raises a conundrum: when a single kinase like Erk is activated, how does a developing cell know which fate to adopt? We combine optogenetic control with genetic perturbations to dissect Erk-dependent fates in the early Drosophila embryo. We find that Erk activity is sufficient to "posteriorize" 88% of the embryo, inducing gut endoderm-like gene expression and morphogenetic movements in all cells within this region. Gut endoderm fate adoption requires at least 1 h of signaling, whereas a 30-min Erk pulse specifies a distinct ectodermal cell type, intermediate neuroblasts. We find that the endoderm-ectoderm cell fate switch is controlled by the cumulative load of Erk activity, not the duration of a single pulse. The fly embryo thus harbors a classic example of dynamic control, where the temporal profile of Erk signaling selects between distinct physiological outcomes.
A size-invariant bud-duration timer enables robustness in yeast cell size control.
Cell populations across nearly all forms of life generally maintain a characteristic cell type-dependent size, but how size control is achieved has been a long-standing question. The G1/S boundary of the cell cycle serves as a major point of size control, and mechanisms operating here restrict passage of cells to Start if they are too small. In contrast, it is less clear how size is regulated post-Start, during S/G2/M. To gain further insight into post-Start size control, we prepared budding yeast that can be reversibly blocked from bud initiation. While blocked, cells continue to grow isotropically, increasing their volume by more than an order of magnitude over unperturbed cells. Upon release from their block, giant mothers reenter the cell cycle and their progeny rapidly return to the original unperturbed size. We found this behavior to be consistent with a size-invariant 'timer' specifying the duration of S/G2/M. These results indicate that yeast use at least two distinct mechanisms at different cell cycle phases to ensure size homeostasis.
A bright future: optogenetics to dissect the spatiotemporal control of cell behavior.
Cells sense, process, and respond to extracellular information using signaling networks: collections of proteins that act as precise biochemical sensors. These protein networks are characterized by both complex temporal organization, such as pulses of signaling activity, and by complex spatial organization, where proteins assemble structures at particular locations and times within the cell. Yet despite their ubiquity, studying these spatial and temporal properties has remained challenging because they emerge from the entire protein network rather than a single node, and cannot be easily tuned by drugs or mutations. These challenges are being met by a new generation of optogenetic tools capable of directly controlling the activity of individual signaling nodes over time and the assembly of protein complexes in space. Here, we outline how these recent innovations are being used in conjunction with engineering-influenced experimental design to address longstanding questions in signaling biology.