Genetic circuit design automation for yeast

Nat Microbiol. 2020 Nov;5(11):1349-1360. doi: 10.1038/s41564-020-0757-2. Epub 2020 Aug 3.


Cells can be programmed to monitor and react to their environment using genetic circuits. Design automation software maps a desired circuit function to a DNA sequence, a process that requires units of gene regulation (gates) that are simple to connect and behave predictably. This poses a challenge for eukaryotes due to their complex mechanisms of transcription and translation. To this end, we have developed gates for yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) that are connected using RNA polymerase flux as the signal carrier and are insulated from each other and host regulation. They are based on minimal constitutive promoters (~120 base pairs), for which rules are developed to insert operators for DNA-binding proteins. Using this approach, we constructed nine NOT/NOR gates with nearly identical response functions and 400-fold dynamic range. In circuits, they are transcriptionally insulated from each other by placing ribozymes downstream of terminators to block nuclear export of messenger RNAs resulting from RNA polymerase readthrough. Based on these gates, Cello 2.0 was used to build circuits with up to 11 regulatory proteins. A simple dynamic model predicts the circuit response over days. Genetic circuit design automation for eukaryotes simplifies the construction of regulatory networks as part of cellular engineering projects, whether it be to stage processes during bioproduction, serve as environmental sentinels or guide living therapeutics.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Automation
  • Base Sequence
  • DNA / genetics
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / metabolism
  • DNA-Directed RNA Polymerases / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Fungal
  • Gene Regulatory Networks*
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic
  • RNA, Catalytic
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae / genetics*
  • Software
  • Synthetic Biology
  • Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Transcription, Genetic


  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • RNA, Catalytic
  • Transcription Factors
  • DNA
  • DNA-Directed RNA Polymerases