Showing 1 - 17 of 17 results
Optogenetic control of gut bacterial metabolism to promote longevity.
Gut microbial metabolism is associated with host longevity. However, because it requires direct manipulation of microbial metabolism in situ, establishing a causal link between these two processes remains challenging. We demonstrate an optogenetic method to control gene expression and metabolite production from bacteria residing in the host gut. We genetically engineer an Escherichia coli strain that secretes colanic acid (CA) under the quantitative control of light. Using this optogenetically-controlled strain to induce CA production directly in the Caenorhabditis elegans gut, we reveal the local effect of CA in protecting intestinal mitochondria from stress-induced hyper-fragmentation. We also demonstrate that the lifespan-extending effect of this strain is positively correlated with the intensity of green light, indicating a dose-dependent CA benefit on the host. Thus, optogenetics can be used to achieve quantitative and temporal control of gut bacterial metabolism in order to reveal its local and systemic effects on host health and aging.
Production of Phytochromes by High-Cell-Density E. coli Fermentation.
Phytochromes are important photoreceptors of plants, bacteria, and fungi responsive to light in the red and far-red spectrum. For increasing applications in basic research, synthetic biology, and materials sciences, it is required to recombinantly produce and purify phytochromes in high amounts. An ideal host organism for this purpose is E. coli due to its widespread use, fast growth, and ability for high-cell-density fermentation. Here, we describe the development of a generic platform for the production of phytochromes in E. coli that is compatible with high-cell-density fermentation. We exemplify our approach by the production of the photosensory domains of phytochrome B (PhyB) from A. thaliana and of the cyanobacterial phytochrome 1 (Cph1) from Synechocystis PCC 6803 in the multigram scale per 10 L fermentation run.
Optogenetic control of Bacillus subtilis gene expression.
The Gram-positive bacterium Bacillus subtilis exhibits complex spatial and temporal gene expression signals. Although optogenetic tools are ideal for studying such processes, none has been engineered for this organism. Here, we port a cyanobacterial light sensor pathway comprising the green/red photoreversible two-component system CcaSR, two metabolic enzymes for production of the chromophore phycocyanobilin (PCB), and an output promoter to control transcription of a gene of interest into B. subtilis. Following an initial non-functional design, we optimize expression of pathway genes, enhance PCB production via a translational fusion of the biosynthetic enzymes, engineer a strong chimeric output promoter, and increase dynamic range with a miniaturized photosensor kinase. Our final design exhibits over 70-fold activation and rapid response dynamics, making it well-suited to studying a wide range of gene regulatory processes. In addition, the synthetic biology methods we develop to port this pathway should make B. subtilis easier to engineer in the future.
Rewiring bacterial two-component systems by modular DNA-binding domain swapping.
Two-component systems (TCSs) are the largest family of multi-step signal transduction pathways and valuable sensors for synthetic biology. However, most TCSs remain uncharacterized or difficult to harness for applications. Major challenges are that many TCS output promoters are unknown, subject to cross-regulation, or silent in heterologous hosts. Here, we demonstrate that the two largest families of response regulator DNA-binding domains can be interchanged with remarkable flexibility, enabling the corresponding TCSs to be rewired to synthetic output promoters. We exploit this plasticity to eliminate cross-regulation, un-silence a gram-negative TCS in a gram-positive host, and engineer a system with over 1,300-fold activation. Finally, we apply DNA-binding domain swapping to screen uncharacterized Shewanella oneidensis TCSs in Escherichia coli, leading to the discovery of a previously uncharacterized pH sensor. This work should accelerate fundamental TCS studies and enable the engineering of a large family of genetically encoded sensors with diverse applications.
A miniaturized E. coli green light sensor with high dynamic range.
Genetically-engineered photoreceptors enable unrivaled control over gene expression. Previously, we ported the Synechocystis PCC 6803 CcaSR two-component system, which is activated by green light and de-activated by red, into E. coli, resulting in a sensor with 6-fold dynamic range. Later, we optimized pathway protein expression levels and the output promoter sequence to decrease transcriptional leakiness and increase the dynamic range to approximately 120-fold. These CcaSR v1.0 and 2.0 systems have been used for precise quantitative, temporal, and spatial control of gene expression for a variety of applications. Recently, others have deleted two PAS domains of unknown function from the CcaS sensor histidine kinase in a CcaSR v1.0-like system. Here, we apply these deletions to CcaSR v2.0, resulting in a v3.0 light sensor with 4-fold lower leaky output and nearly 600-fold dynamic range. We demonstrate that the PAS domain deletions have no deleterious effect on CcaSR green light sensitivity or response dynamics. CcaSR v3.0 is the best performing engineered bacterial green light sensor available, and should have broad applications in fundamental and synthetic biology studies.
Engineering an E. coli Near-Infrared Light Sensor.
Optogenetics is a technology wherein researchers combine light and genetically engineered photoreceptors to control biological processes with unrivaled precision. Near-infrared (NIR) wavelengths (>700 nm) are desirable optogenetic inputs due to their low phototoxicity and spectral isolation from most photoproteins. The bacteriophytochrome photoreceptor 1 (BphP1), found in several purple photosynthetic bacteria, senses NIR light and activates transcription of photosystem promoters by binding to and inhibiting the transcriptional repressor PpsR2. Here, we examine the response of a library of output promoters to increasing levels of Rhodopseudomonas palustris PpsR2 expression, and we identify that of Bradyrhizobium sp. BTAi1 crtE as the most strongly repressed in Escherichia coli. Next, we optimize Rps. palustris bphP1 and ppsR2 expression in a strain engineered to produce the required chromophore biliverdin IXα in order to demonstrate NIR-activated transcription. Unlike a previously engineered bacterial NIR photoreceptor, our system does not require production of a second messenger, and it exhibits rapid response dynamics. It is also the most red-shifted bacterial optogenetic tool yet reported by approximately 50 nm. Accordingly, our BphP1-PpsR2 system has numerous applications in bacterial optogenetics.
A photoconversion model for full spectral programming and multiplexing of optogenetic systems.
Optogenetics combines externally applied light signals and genetically engineered photoreceptors to control cellular processes with unmatched precision. Here, we develop a mathematical model of wavelength- and intensity-dependent photoconversion, signaling, and output gene expression for our two previously engineered light-sensing Escherichia coli two-component systems. To parameterize the model, we develop a simple set of spectral and dynamical calibration experiments using our recent open-source "Light Plate Apparatus" device. In principle, the parameterized model should predict the gene expression response to any time-varying signal from any mixture of light sources with known spectra. We validate this capability experimentally using a suite of challenging light sources and signals very different from those used during the parameterization process. Furthermore, we use the model to compensate for significant spectral cross-reactivity inherent to the two sensors in order to develop a new method for programming two simultaneous and independent gene expression signals within the same cell. Our optogenetic multiplexing method will enable powerful new interrogations of how metabolic, signaling, and decision-making pathways integrate multiple input signals.
An open-hardware platform for optogenetics and photobiology.
In optogenetics, researchers use light and genetically encoded photoreceptors to control biological processes with unmatched precision. However, outside of neuroscience, the impact of optogenetics has been limited by a lack of user-friendly, flexible, accessible hardware. Here, we engineer the Light Plate Apparatus (LPA), a device that can deliver two independent 310 to 1550 nm light signals to each well of a 24-well plate with intensity control over three orders of magnitude and millisecond resolution. Signals are programmed using an intuitive web tool named Iris. All components can be purchased for under $400 and the device can be assembled and calibrated by a non-expert in one day. We use the LPA to precisely control gene expression from blue, green, and red light responsive optogenetic tools in bacteria, yeast, and mammalian cells and simplify the entrainment of cyanobacterial circadian rhythm. The LPA dramatically reduces the entry barrier to optogenetics and photobiology experiments.
Repurposing Synechocystis PCC6803 UirS-UirR as a UV-Violet/Green Photoreversible Transcriptional Regulatory Tool in E. coli.
We have previously engineered green/red and red/far red photoreversible E. coli phytochrome and cyanobacteriochrome (CBCR) two-component systems (TCSs) and utilized them to program tailor-made gene expression signals for gene circuit characterization. Here, we transport the UV-violet/green photoreversible CBCR TCS UirS-UirR from Synechocystis PCC6803 to E. coli. We demonstrate that the promoter of the small RNA csiR1, previously shown to be activated by inorganic carbon stress, is a UirS-UirR output. Additionally, in contrast to a recently proposed sequestration model, we show that the sensor histidine kinase UirS phosphorylates the response regulator UirR to activate PcsiR1 transcription in response to UV-violet light. Finally, we measure changes in UirS-UirR output minutes after a change in light input and exploit these rapid dynamics to program a challenging gene expression signal with high predictability. UirS-UirR is the first engineered transcriptional regulatory tool activated exclusively by UV-violet light, and the most blue shifted photoreversible transcriptional regulatory tool.
Light-Activated Nuclear Translocation of Adeno-Associated Virus Nanoparticles Using Phytochrome B for Enhanced, Tunable, and Spatially Programmable Gene Delivery.
Gene delivery vectors that are activated by external stimuli may allow improved control over the location and the degree of gene expression in target populations of cells. Light is an attractive stimulus because it does not cross-react with cellular signaling networks, has negligible toxicity, is noninvasive, and can be applied in space and time with unparalleled precision. We used the previously engineered red (R)/far-red (FR) light-switchable protein phytochrome B (PhyB) and its R light dependent interaction partner phytochrome interacting factor 6 (PIF6) from Arabidopsis thaliana to engineer an adeno-associated virus (AAV) platform whose gene delivery efficiency is controlled by light. Upon exposure to R light, AAV engineered to display PIF6 motifs on the capsid bind to PhyB tagged with a nuclear localization sequence (NLS), resulting in significantly increased translocation of viruses into the host cell nucleus and overall gene delivery efficiency. By modulating the ratio of R to FR light, the gene delivery efficiency can be tuned to as little as 35% or over 600% of the unengineered AAV. We also demonstrate spatial control of gene delivery using projected patterns of codelivered R and FR light. Overall, our successful use of light-switchable proteins in virus capsid engineering extends these important optogenetic tools into the adjacent realm of nucleic acid delivery and enables enhanced, tunable, and spatially controllable regulation of viral gene delivery. Our current light-triggered viral gene delivery prototype may be broadly useful for genetic manipulation of cells ex vivo or in vivo in transgenic model organisms, with the ultimate prospect of achieving dose- and site-specific gene expression profiles for either therapeutic (e.g., regenerative medicine) or fundamental discovery research efforts.
Refactoring and optimization of light-switchable Escherichia coli two-component systems.
Light-switchable proteins enable unparalleled control of molecular biological processes in live organisms. Previously, we have engineered red/far-red and green/red photoreversible two-component signal transduction systems (TCSs) with transcriptional outputs in E. coli and used them to characterize and control synthetic gene circuits with exceptional quantitative, temporal, and spatial precision. However, the broad utility of these light sensors is limited by bulky DNA encoding, incompatibility with commonly used ligand-responsive transcription factors, leaky output in deactivating light, and less than 10-fold dynamic range. Here, we compress the four genes required for each TCS onto two streamlined plasmids and replace all chemically inducible and evolved promoters with constitutive, engineered versions. Additionally, we systematically optimize the expression of each sensor histidine kinase and response regulator, and redesign both pathway output promoters, resulting in low leakiness and 72- and 117-fold dynamic range, respectively. These second-generation light sensors can be used to program the expression of more genes over a wider range and can be more easily combined with additional plasmids or moved to different host strains. This work demonstrates that bacterial TCSs can be optimized to function as high-performance sensors for scientific and engineering applications.
Optogenetic characterization methods overcome key challenges in synthetic and systems biology.
Systems biologists aim to understand how organism-level processes, such as differentiation and multicellular development, are encoded in DNA. Conversely, synthetic biologists aim to program systems-level biological processes, such as engineered tissue growth, by writing artificial DNA sequences. To achieve their goals, these groups have adapted a hierarchical electrical engineering framework that can be applied in the forward direction to design complex biological systems or in the reverse direction to analyze evolved networks. Despite much progress, this framework has been limited by an inability to directly and dynamically characterize biological components in the varied contexts of living cells. Recently, two optogenetic methods for programming custom gene expression and protein localization signals have been developed and used to reveal fundamentally new information about biological components that respond to those signals. This basic dynamic characterization approach will be a major enabling technology in synthetic and systems biology.
Characterizing bacterial gene circuit dynamics with optically programmed gene expression signals.
Gene circuits are dynamical systems that regulate cellular behaviors, often using protein signals as inputs and outputs. Here we have developed an optogenetic 'function generator' method for programming tailor-made gene expression signals in live bacterial cells. We designed precomputed light sequences based on experimentally calibrated mathematical models of light-switchable two-component systems and used them to drive intracellular protein levels to match user-defined reference time courses. We used this approach to generate accelerated and linearized dynamics, sinusoidal oscillations with desired amplitudes and periods, and a complex waveform, all with unprecedented accuracy and precision. We also combined the function generator with a dual fluorescent protein reporter system, analogous to a dual-channel oscilloscope, to reveal that a synthetic repressible promoter linearly transforms repressor signals with an approximate 7-min delay. Our approach will enable a new generation of dynamical analyses of synthetic and natural gene circuits, providing an essential step toward the predictive design and rigorous understanding of biological systems.
Plate-based assays for light-regulated gene expression systems.
Light sensing proteins can be used to control living cells with exquisite precision. We have recently constructed a set of bacterial light sensors and used them to pattern gene expression across lawns of Escherichia coli with images of green and red light. The sensors can be expressed in a single cell and controlled independently by applying different light wavelengths. Both sensors also demonstrate continuous input-output behavior, where the magnitude of gene expression is proportional to the intensity of light applied. This combination of features allows complex patterns of gene expression to be programmed across an otherwise homogeneous cell population. The red light sensor has also been connected to a cell-cell communication system and several genetic logic circuits in order to program the bacterial lawn to behave as a distributed computer that performs the image-processing task of edge detection. Here, we will describe protocols for working with these systems in the laboratory.
Multichromatic control of gene expression in Escherichia coli.
Light is a powerful tool for manipulating living cells because it can be applied with high resolution across space and over time. We previously constructed a red light-sensitive Escherichia coli transcription system based on a chimera between the red/far-red switchable cyanobacterial phytochrome Cph1 and the E. coli EnvZ/OmpR two-component signaling pathway. Here, we report the development of a green light-inducible transcription system in E. coli based on a recently discovered green/red photoswitchable two-component system from cyanobacteria. We demonstrate that the transcriptional output is proportional to the intensity of green light applied and that the green sensor is orthogonal to the red sensor at intensities of 532-nm light less than 0.01 W/m(2). Expression of both sensors in a single cell allows two-color optical control of transcription both in batch culture and in patterns across a lawn of engineered cells. Because each sensor functions as a photoreversible switch, this system should allow the spatial and temporal control of the expression of multiple genes through different combinations of light wavelengths. This feature aids precision single-cell and population-level studies in systems and synthetic biology.
A synthetic genetic edge detection program.
Edge detection is a signal processing algorithm common in artificial intelligence and image recognition programs. We have constructed a genetically encoded edge detection algorithm that programs an isogenic community of E. coli to sense an image of light, communicate to identify the light-dark edges, and visually present the result of the computation. The algorithm is implemented using multiple genetic circuits. An engineered light sensor enables cells to distinguish between light and dark regions. In the dark, cells produce a diffusible chemical signal that diffuses into light regions. Genetic logic gates are used so that only cells that sense light and the diffusible signal produce a positive output. A mathematical model constructed from first principles and parameterized with experimental measurements of the component circuits predicts the performance of the complete program. Quantitatively accurate models will facilitate the engineering of more complex biological behaviors and inform bottom-up studies of natural genetic regulatory networks.
Synthetic biology: engineering Escherichia coli to see light.
We have designed a bacterial system that is switched between different states by red light. The system consists of a synthetic sensor kinase that allows a lawn of bacteria to function as a biological film, such that the projection of a pattern of light on to the bacteria produces a high-definition (about 100 megapixels per square inch), two-dimensional chemical image. This spatial control of bacterial gene expression could be used to 'print' complex biological materials, for example, and to investigate signalling pathways through precise spatial and temporal control of their phosphorylation steps.