There are many strategies to actuate and control genetic circuits, including providing stimuli like exogenous chemical inducers, light, magnetic fields, and even applied voltage, that are orthogonal to metabolic activity. Their use enables actuation of gene expression for the production of small molecules and proteins in many contexts. Additionally, there are a growing number of reports wherein cocultures, consortia, or even complex microbiomes are employed for the production of biologics, taking advantage of an expanded array of biological function. Combining stimuli-responsive engineered cell populations enhances design space but increases complexity. In this work, we co-opt nature's redox networks and electrogenetically route control signals into a consortium of microbial cells engineered to produce a model small molecule, tyrosine. In particular, we show how electronically programmed short-lived signals (i.e., hydrogen peroxide) can be transformed by one population and propagated into sustained longer-distance signals that, in turn, guide tyrosine production in a second population building on bacterial quorum sensing that coordinates their collective behavior. Two design methodologies are demonstrated. First, we use electrogenetics to transform redox signals into the quorum sensing autoinducer, AI-1, that, in turn, induces a tyrosine biosynthesis pathway transformed into a second population. Second, we use the electrogenetically stimulated AI-1 to actuate expression of ptsH, boosting the growth rate of tyrosine-producing cells, augmenting both their number and metabolic activity. In both cases, we show how signal propagation within the coculture helps to ensure tyrosine production. We suggest that this work lays a foundation for employing electrochemical stimuli and engineered cocultures for production of molecular products in biomanufacturing environments.
Keywords: coculture; electrogenetics; quorum sensing; signal propagation.