A single-chain and fast-responding light-inducible Cre recombinase as a novel optogenetic switch

Elife. 2021 Feb 23;10:e61268. doi: 10.7554/eLife.61268.


Optogenetics enables genome manipulations with high spatiotemporal resolution, opening exciting possibilities for fundamental and applied biological research. Here, we report the development of LiCre, a novel light-inducible Cre recombinase. LiCre is made of a single flavin-containing protein comprising the AsLOV2 photoreceptor domain of Avena sativa fused to a Cre variant carrying destabilizing mutations in its N-terminal and C-terminal domains. LiCre can be activated within minutes of illumination with blue light without the need of additional chemicals. When compared to existing photoactivatable Cre recombinases based on two split units, LiCre displayed faster and stronger activation by light as well as a lower residual activity in the dark. LiCre was efficient both in yeast, where it allowed us to control the production of β-carotene with light, and human cells. Given its simplicity and performances, LiCre is particularly suited for fundamental and biomedical research, as well as for controlling industrial bioprocesses.

Keywords: Cre/Lox; DNA recombination; S. cerevisiae; biochemistry; chemical biology; genetics; genome editing; genomics; human; optogenetics; synthetic biology.

Plain language summary

In a biologist’s toolkit, the Cre protein holds a special place. Naturally found in certain viruses, this enzyme recognises and modifies specific genetic sequences, creating changes that switch on or off whatever gene is close by. Genetically engineering cells or organisms so that they carry Cre and its target sequences allows scientists to control the activation of a given gene, often in a single tissue or organ. However, this relies on the ability to activate the Cre protein ‘on demand’ once it is in the cells of interest. One way to do so is to split the enzyme into two pieces, which can then reassemble when exposed to blue light. Yet, this involves the challenging step of introducing both parts separately into a tissue. Instead, Duplus-Bottin et al. engineered LiCre, a new system where a large section of the Cre protein is fused to a light sensor used by oats to detect their environment. LiCre is off in the dark, but it starts to recognize and modify Cre target sequences when exposed to blue light. Duplus-Bottin et al. then assessed how LiCre compares to the two-part Cre system in baker's yeast and human kidney cells. This showed that the new protein is less ‘incorrectly’ active in the dark, and can switch on faster under blue light. The improved approach could give scientists a better tool to study the role of certain genes at precise locations and time points, but also help them to harness genetic sequences for industry or during gene therapy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Integrases / genetics*
  • Integrases / metabolism
  • Light
  • Optogenetics / methods*
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae / enzymology
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae / genetics*
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae Proteins / genetics*
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae Proteins / metabolism


  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae Proteins
  • Cre recombinase
  • Integrases

Grant support

The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication.