Synthetic Biology of Small RNAs and Riboswitches

Microbiol Spectr. 2018 May;6(3):10.1128/microbiolspec.RWR-0007-2017. doi: 10.1128/microbiolspec.RWR-0007-2017.


In bacteria and archaea, small RNAs (sRNAs) regulate complex networks through antisense interactions with target mRNAs in trans, and riboswitches regulate gene expression in cis based on the ability to bind small-molecule ligands. Although our understanding and characterization of these two important regulatory RNA classes is far from complete, these RNA-based mechanisms have proven useful for a wide variety of synthetic biology applications. Besides classic and contemporary applications in the realm of metabolic engineering and orthogonal gene control, this review also covers newer applications of regulatory RNAs as biosensors, logic gates, and tools to determine RNA-RNA interactions. A separate section focuses on critical insights gained and challenges posed by fundamental studies of sRNAs and riboswitches that should aid future development of synthetic regulatory RNAs.

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.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Gene Expression Regulation, Archaeal
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial
  • RNA, Antisense / genetics
  • RNA, Archaeal / genetics
  • RNA, Bacterial / genetics
  • RNA, Small Untranslated / genetics*
  • Riboswitch / genetics*
  • Synthetic Biology / methods*


  • RNA, Antisense
  • RNA, Archaeal
  • RNA, Bacterial
  • RNA, Small Untranslated
  • Riboswitch