Probing cell-free gene expression noise in femtoliter volumes


Karig DK, Jung S-Y, Srijanto B, Collier CP, Simpson ML


Cell-free systems offer a simplified and flexible context that enables important biological reactions while removing complicating factors such as fitness, division, and mutation that are associated with living cells. However, cell-free expression in unconfined spaces is missing important elements of expression in living cells. In particular, the small volume of living cells can give rise to significant stochastic effects, which are negligible in bulk cell-free reactions. Here, we confine cell-free gene expression reactions to cell-relevant 20 fL volumes (between the volumes of Escherichia coli and Saccharomyces cerevisiae), in polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) containers. We demonstrate that expression efficiency varies widely among different containers, likely due to non-Poisson distribution of expression machinery at the observed scale. Previously, this phenomenon has been observed only in liposomes. In addition, we analyze gene expression noise. This analysis is facilitated by our use of cell-free systems, which allow the mapping of the measured noise properties to intrinsic noise models. In contrast, previous live cell noise analysis efforts have been complicated by multiple noise sources. Noise analysis reveals signatures of translational bursting, while noise dynamics suggest that overall cell-free expression is limited by a diminishing translation rate. In addition to offering a unique approach to understanding noise in gene circuits, our work contributes to a deeper understanding of the biophysical properties of cell-free expression systems, thus aiding efforts to harness cell-free systems for synthetic biology applications.

Access Full Publication


Karig DK, Jung S-Y, Srijanto B, Collier CP, Simpson ML. 2013. Probing cell-free gene expression noise in femtoliter volumes. ACS Synthetic Biology 2:497-505.