Plug-and-play metabolic transducers expand the chemical detection space of cell-free biosensors

Nat Commun. 2019 Apr 12;10(1):1697. doi: 10.1038/s41467-019-09722-9.


Cell-free transcription-translation systems have great potential for biosensing, yet the range of detectable chemicals is limited. Here we provide a workflow to expand the range of molecules detectable by cell-free biosensors through combining synthetic metabolic cascades with transcription factor-based networks. These hybrid cell-free biosensors have a fast response time, strong signal response, and a high dynamic range. In addition, they are capable of functioning in a variety of complex media, including commercial beverages and human urine, in which they can be used to detect clinically relevant concentrations of small molecules. This work provides a foundation to engineer modular cell-free biosensors tailored for many applications.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Beverages / analysis*
  • Biosensing Techniques*
  • Campylobacter jejuni
  • Cell-Free System*
  • Cocaine / urine
  • Escherichia coli / metabolism
  • Hippurates / urine
  • Humans
  • Metabolic Engineering
  • Rhodococcus
  • Synthetic Biology
  • Transducers
  • Urinalysis / instrumentation*


  • Hippurates
  • Cocaine
  • hippuric acid