A red light-controlled synthetic gene expression switch for plant systems.
Abstract: On command control of gene expression in time and space is required for the comprehensive analysis of key plant cellular processes. Even though some chemical inducible systems showing satisfactory induction features have been developed, they are inherently limited in terms of spatiotemporal resolution and may be associated with toxic effects. We describe here the first synthetic light-inducible system for the targeted control of gene expression in plants. For this purpose, we applied an interdisciplinary synthetic biology approach comprising mammalian and plant cell systems to customize and optimize a split transcription factor based on the plant photoreceptor phytochrome B and one of its interacting factors (PIF6). Implementation of the system in transient assays in tobacco protoplasts resulted in strong (95-fold) induction in red light (660 nm) and could be instantaneously returned to the OFF state by subsequent illumination with far-red light (740 nm). Capitalizing on this toggle switch-like characteristic, we demonstrate that the system can be kept in the OFF state in the presence of 740 nm-supplemented white light, opening up perspectives for future application of the system in whole plants. Finally we demonstrate the system's applicability in basic research, by the light-controlled tuning of auxin signalling networks in N. tabacum protoplasts, as well as its biotechnological potential for the chemical-inducer free production of therapeutic proteins in the moss P. patens.