Synthetic metabolic computation in a bioluminescence-sensing system

Nucleic Acids Res. 2019 Nov 4;47(19):10464-10474. doi: 10.1093/nar/gkz807.


Bioluminescence is visible light produced and emitted by living cells using various biological systems (e.g. luxCDABE cassette). Today, this phenomenon is widely exploited in biological research, biotechnology and medical applications as a quantitative technique for the detection of biological signals. However, this technique has mostly been used to detect a single input only. In this work, we re-engineered the complex genetic structure of luxCDABE cassette to build a biological unit that can detect multi-inputs, process the cellular information and report the computation results. We first split the luxCDABE operon into several parts to create a genetic circuit that can compute a soft minimum in living cells. Then, we used the new design to implement an AND logic function with better performance as compared to AND logic functions based on protein-protein interactions. Furthermore, by controlling the reverse reaction of the luxCDABE cassette independently from the forward reaction, we built a comparator with a programmable detection threshold. Finally, we applied the redesigned cassette to build an incoherent feedforward loop that reduced the unwanted crosstalk between stress-responsive promoters (recA, katG). This work demonstrates the construction of genetic circuits that combine regulations of gene expression with metabolic pathways, for sensing and computing in living cells.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biosensing Techniques*
  • Computational Biology*
  • Escherichia coli / genetics
  • Gene Regulatory Networks / genetics
  • Metabolic Engineering
  • Operon / genetics
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic / genetics*
  • Synthetic Biology