SYNTHETIC BIOLOGY. Emergent genetic oscillations in a synthetic microbial consortium

Science. 2015 Aug 28;349(6251):986-9. doi: 10.1126/science.aaa3794.


A challenge of synthetic biology is the creation of cooperative microbial systems that exhibit population-level behaviors. Such systems use cellular signaling mechanisms to regulate gene expression across multiple cell types. We describe the construction of a synthetic microbial consortium consisting of two distinct cell types—an "activator" strain and a "repressor" strain. These strains produced two orthogonal cell-signaling molecules that regulate gene expression within a synthetic circuit spanning both strains. The two strains generated emergent, population-level oscillations only when cultured together. Certain network topologies of the two-strain circuit were better at maintaining robust oscillations than others. The ability to program population-level dynamics through the genetic engineering of multiple cooperative strains points the way toward engineering complex synthetic tissues and organs with multiple cell types.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • 4-Butyrolactone / analogs & derivatives
  • 4-Butyrolactone / metabolism
  • Escherichia coli / genetics*
  • Escherichia coli / physiology*
  • Escherichia coli Proteins / genetics
  • Escherichia coli Proteins / metabolism
  • Feedback, Physiological
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial*
  • Gene Regulatory Networks*
  • Genetic Engineering
  • Lab-On-A-Chip Devices
  • Microbial Consortia / genetics*
  • Microbial Consortia / physiology*
  • Microbial Interactions
  • Models, Biological
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic
  • Quorum Sensing
  • Signal Transduction
  • Synthetic Biology
  • Transcription, Genetic


  • Escherichia coli Proteins
  • homoserine lactone
  • 4-Butyrolactone