Expression optimization and synthetic gene networks in cell-free systems


Karig DK, Iyer S, Simpson ML, Doktycz MJ


Synthetic biology offers great promise to a variety of applications through the forward engineering of biological function. Most efforts in this field have focused on employing living cells, yet cell-free approaches offer simpler and more flexible contexts. Here, we evaluate cell-free regulatory systems based on T7 promoter-driven expression by characterizing variants of TetR and LacI repressible T7 promoters in a cell-free context and examining sequence elements that determine expression efficiency. Using the resulting constructs, we then explore different approaches for composing regulatory systems, leading to the implementation of inducible negative feedback in Escherichia coli extracts and in the minimal PURE system, which consists of purified proteins necessary for transcription and translation. Despite the fact that negative feedback motifs are common and essential to many natural and engineered systems, this simple building block has not previously been implemented in a cell-free context. As a final step, we then demonstrate that the feedback systems developed using our cell-free approach can be implemented in live E. coli as well, illustrating the potential for using cell-free expression to fast track the development of live cell systems in synthetic biology. Our quantitative cell-free component characterizations and demonstration of negative feedback embody important steps on the path to harnessing biological function in a bottom-up fashion.

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Karig DK, Iyer S, Simpson ML, Doktycz MJ. 2012. Expression optimization and synthetic gene networks in cell-free systems. Nucleic Acids Research 40:3763-3774.