Optochemical Control of Bacterial Gene Expression: Novel Photocaged Compounds for Different Promoter Systems

Chembiochem. 2022 Jan 5;23(1):e202100467. doi: 10.1002/cbic.202100467. Epub 2021 Dec 2.


Photocaged compounds are applied for implementing precise, optochemical control of gene expression in bacteria. To broaden the scope of UV-light-responsive inducer molecules, six photocaged carbohydrates were synthesized and photochemically characterized, with the absorption exhibiting a red-shift. Their differing linkage through ether, carbonate, and carbamate bonds revealed that carbonate and carbamate bonds are convenient. Subsequently, those compounds were successfully applied in vivo for controlling gene expression in E. coli via blue light illumination. Furthermore, benzoate-based expression systems were subjected to light control by establishing a novel photocaged salicylic acid derivative. Besides its synthesis and in vitro characterization, we demonstrate the challenging choice of a suitable promoter system for light-controlled gene expression in E. coli. We illustrate various bottlenecks during both photocaged inducer synthesis and in vivo application and possibilities to overcome them. These findings pave the way towards novel caged inducer-dependent systems for wavelength-selective gene expression.

Keywords: caged compounds; gene expression; optogenetics; photochemistry; synthetic biology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Carbohydrates / chemical synthesis
  • Carbohydrates / chemistry*
  • Escherichia coli / genetics*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial / genetics*
  • Photochemical Processes
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic / genetics


  • Carbohydrates