A general strategy to construct small molecule biosensors in eukaryotes

Elife. 2015 Dec 29:4:e10606. doi: 10.7554/eLife.10606.


Biosensors for small molecules can be used in applications that range from metabolic engineering to orthogonal control of transcription. Here, we produce biosensors based on a ligand-binding domain (LBD) by using a method that, in principle, can be applied to any target molecule. The LBD is fused to either a fluorescent protein or a transcriptional activator and is destabilized by mutation such that the fusion accumulates only in cells containing the target ligand. We illustrate the power of this method by developing biosensors for digoxin and progesterone. Addition of ligand to yeast, mammalian, or plant cells expressing a biosensor activates transcription with a dynamic range of up to ~100-fold. We use the biosensors to improve the biotransformation of pregnenolone to progesterone in yeast and to regulate CRISPR activity in mammalian cells. This work provides a general methodology to develop biosensors for a broad range of molecules in eukaryotes.

Keywords: a. thaliana; s. cerevisiae; CRISPR; biochemistry; biophysics; biosensors; human; metabolic engineering; structural biology.

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

  • Biosensing Techniques / methods*
  • Digoxin / analysis
  • Eukaryota*
  • Molecular Biology / methods*
  • Progesterone / analysis
  • Protein Binding
  • Protein Stability / drug effects
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins / chemistry
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins / genetics
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins / metabolism*


  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins
  • Progesterone
  • Digoxin