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NAR Top Articles - Synthetic Biology and Chemistry

Synthetic Biology and Chemistry

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December 2013

DNA-guided assembly of biosynthetic pathways promotes improved catalytic efficiency
Conrado, RJ; Wu, GC; Boock, JT; Xu, HS; Chen, SY; Lebar, T; Turnsek, J; Tomsic, N; Avbelj, M; Gaber, R; Koprivnjak, T; Mori, J; Glavnik, V; Vovk, I; Bencina, M; Hodnik, V; Anderluh, G; Dueber, JE; Jerala, R; DeLisa, MP
Nucleic Acids Res. (2012) 40 (4): 1879-1889
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Synthetic scaffolds that permit spatial and temporal organization of enzymes in living cells are a promising post-translational strategy for controlling the flow of information in both metabolic and signaling pathways. Here, we describe the use of plasmid DNA as a stable, robust and configurable scaffold for arranging biosynthetic enzymes in the cytoplasm of Escherichia coli. This involved conversion of individual enzymes into custom DNA-binding proteins by genetic fusion to zinc-finger domains that specifically bind unique DNA sequences. When expressed in cells that carried a rationally designed DNA scaffold comprising corresponding zinc finger binding sites, the titers of diverse metabolic products, including resveratrol, 1,2-propanediol and mevalonate were increased as a function of the scaffold architecture. These results highlight the utility of DNA scaffolds for assembling biosynthetic enzymes into functional metabolic structures...

TAL nucleases (TALNs): hybrid proteins composed of TAL effectors and FokI DNA-cleavage domain
Li, T; Huang, S; Jiang, WZ; Wright, D; Spalding, MH; Weeks, DP; Yang, B
Nucleic Acids Res. (2011) 39 (1): 359-372
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DNA double-strand breaks enhance homologous recombination in cells and have been exploited for targeted genome editing through use of engineered endonucleases. Here we report the creation and initial characterization of a group of rare-cutting, site-specific DNA nucleases produced by fusion of the restriction enzyme FokI endonuclease domain (FN) with the high-specificity DNA-binding domains of AvrXa7 and PthXo1. AvrXa7 and PthXo1 are members of the transcription activator-like (TAL) effector family whose central repeat units dictate target DNA recognition and can be modularly constructed to create novel DNA specificity. The hybrid FN-AvrXa7, AvrXa7-FN and PthXo1-FN proteins retain both recognition specificity for their target DNA (a 26 bp sequence for AvrXa7 and 24 bp for PthXo1) and the double-stranded DNA cleaving activity of FokI and, thus, are called TAL nucleases (TALNs). With all three TALNs, DNA is cleaved adjacent to the TAL-binding site under optimal conditions in vitro. When expressed in yeast, the TALNs promote DNA homologous recombination of a LacZ gene containing paired AvrXa7 or asymmetric AvrXa7/PthXo1 target sequences...

Modularly assembled designer TAL effector nucleases for targeted gene knockout and gene replacement in eukaryotes
Li, T; Huang, S; Zhao, XF; Wright, DA; Carpenter, S; Spalding, MH; Weeks, DP; Yang, B
Nucleic Acids Res. (2011) 39 (14): 6315-6325
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Recent studies indicate that the DNA recognition domain of transcription activator-like (TAL) effectors can be combined with the nuclease domain of FokI restriction enzyme to produce TAL effector nucleases (TALENs) that, in pairs, bind adjacent DNA target sites and produce double-strand breaks between the target sequences, stimulating non-homologous end-joining and homologous recombination. Here, we exploit the four prevalent TAL repeats and their DNA recognition cipher to develop a 'modular assembly' method for rapid production of designer TALENs (dTALENs) that recognize unique DNA sequence up to 23 bases in any gene. We have used this approach to engineer 10 dTALENs to target specific loci in native yeast chromosomal genes. All dTALENs produced high rates of site-specific gene disruptions and created strains with expected mutant phenotypes. Moreover, dTALENs stimulated high rates (up to 34%) of gene replacement by homologous recombination. Finally, dTALENs caused no detectable cytotoxicity and minimal levels of undesired genetic mutations in the treated yeast strains...

Modular control of multiple pathways using engineered orthogonal T7 polymerases
Temme, K; Hill, R; Segall-Shapiro, TH; Moser, F; Voigt, CA
Nucleic Acids Res. (2012) 40 (17): 8773-8781
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Synthetic genetic sensors and circuits enable programmable control over the timing and conditions of gene expression. They are being increasingly incorporated into the control of complex, multigene pathways and cellular functions. Here, we propose a design strategy to genetically separate the sensing/circuitry functions from the pathway to be controlled. This separation is achieved by having the output of the circuit drive the expression of a polymerase, which then activates the pathway from polymerase-specific promoters. The sensors, circuits and polymerase are encoded together on a 'controller' plasmid. Variants of T7 RNA polymerase that reduce toxicity were constructed and used as scaffolds for the construction of four orthogonal polymerases identified via part mining that bind to unique promoter sequences. This set is highly orthogonal and induces cognate promoters by 8- to 75-fold more than off-target promoters. These orthogonal polymerases enable four independent channels linking the outputs of circuits to the control of different cellular functions. As a demonstration, we constructed a controller plasmid that integrates two inducible systems...

Stimuli-responsive controlled-release system using quadruplex DNA-capped silica nanocontainers
Chen, CE; Pu, F; Huang, ZZ; Liu, Z; Ren, JS; Qu, XG
Nucleic Acids Res. (2011) 39 (4): 1638-1644
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A novel proton-fueled molecular gate-like delivery system has been constructed for controlled cargo release using i-motif quadruplex DNA as caps onto pore outlets of mesoporous silica nanoparticles. Start from simple conformation changes, the i-motif DNA cap can open and close the pore system in smart response to pH stimulus. Importantly, the opening/closing and delivery protocol is highly reversible and a partial cargo delivery can be easily controlled at will. A pH-switchable nanoreactor has also been developed to validate the potential of our system for on-demand molecular transport. This proof of concept might open the door to a new generation of carrier materials and could also provide a general route to use other functional nucleic acids/peptide nucleic acids as capping agents in the fields of versatile controlled delivery nanodevices.

Engineering synthetic TAL effectors with orthogonal target sites
Garg, A; Lohmueller, JJ; Silver, PA; Armel, TZ
Nucleic Acids Res. (2012) 40 (15): 7584-7595
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The ability to engineer biological circuits that process and respond to complex cellular signals has the potential to impact many areas of biology and medicine. Transcriptional activator-like effectors (TALEs) have emerged as an attractive component for engineering these circuits, as TALEs can be designed de novo to target a given DNA sequence. Currently, however, the use of TALEs is limited by degeneracy in the site-specific manner by which they recognize DNA. Here, we propose an algorithm to computationally address this problem. We apply our algorithm to design 180 TALEs targeting 20 bp cognate binding sites that are at least 3 nt mismatches away from all 20 bp sequences in putative 2 kb human promoter regions. We generated eight of these synthetic TALE activators and showed that each is able to activate transcription from a targeted reporter. Importantly, we show that these proteins do not activate synthetic reporters containing mismatches similar to those present in the genome nor a set of endogenous genes predicted to be the most likely targets in vivo. Finally, we generated and characterized TALE repressors comprised of our orthogonal DNA binding domains and further combined them with shRNAs...

Assembly of custom TALE-type DNA binding domains by modular cloning
Morbitzer, R; Elsaesser, J; Hausner, J; Lahaye, T
Nucleic Acids Res. (2011) 39 (13): 5790-5799
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Transcription activator-like effector (TALE) DNA binding proteins show tremendous potential as molecular tools for targeted binding to any desired DNA sequence. Their DNA binding domain consists of tandem arranged repeats, and due to this repetitive structure it is challenging to generate designer TALEs (dTALEs) with user-defined specificity. We present a cloning approach that facilitates the assembly of multiple repeat-encoding DNA fragments that translate into dTALEs with pre-defined DNA binding specificity. This method makes use of type IIS restriction enzymes in two sequential cut-ligase reactions to build dTALE repeat arrays. We employed this modular approach for generation of a dTALE that differentiates between two highly similar DNA sequences that are both targeted by the Xanthomonas TALE, AvrBs3. These data show that this modular assembly system allows rapid generation of highly specific TALE-type DNA binding domains that target binding sites of predefined length and sequence. This approach enables the rapid and flexible production of dTALEs for gene regulation and genome editing in routine and high-throughput applications.

Simplification of the genetic code: restricted diversity of genetically encoded amino acids
Kawahara-Kobayashi, A; Masuda, A; Araiso, Y; Sakai, Y; Kohda, A; Uchiyama, M; Asami, S; Matsuda, T; Ishitani, R; Dohmae, N; Yokoyama, S; Kigawa, T; Nureki, O; Kiga, D
Nucleic Acids Res. (2012) 40 (20): 10576-10584
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At earlier stages in the evolution of the universal genetic code, fewer than 20 amino acids were considered to be used. Although this notion is supported by a wide range of data, the actual existence and function of the genetic codes with a limited set of canonical amino acids have not been addressed experimentally, in contrast to the successful development of the expanded codes. Here, we constructed artificial genetic codes involving a reduced alphabet. In one of the codes, a tRNA(Ala) variant with the Trp anticodon reassigns alanine to an unassigned UGG codon in the Escherichia coli S30 cell-free translation system lacking tryptophan. We confirmed that the efficiency and accuracy of protein synthesis by this Trp-lacking code were comparable to those by the universal genetic code, by an amino acid composition analysis, green fluorescent protein fluorescence measurements and the crystal structure determination. We also showed that another code, in which UGU/UGC codons are assigned to Ser, synthesizes an active enzyme...

Chimeric TALE recombinases with programmable DNA sequence specificity
Mercer, AC; Gaj, T; Fuller, RP; Barbas, CF
Nucleic Acids Res. (2012) 40 (21): 11163-11172
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Site-specific recombinases are powerful tools for genome engineering. Hyperactivated variants of the resolvase/invertase family of serine recombinases function without accessory factors, and thus can be re-targeted to sequences of interest by replacing native DNA-binding domains (DBDs) with engineered zinc-finger proteins (ZFPs). However, imperfect modularity with particular domains, lack of high-affinity binding to all DNA triplets, and difficulty in construction has hindered the wide-spread adoption of ZFPs in unspecialized laboratories. The discovery of a novel type of DBD in transcription activator-like effector (TALE) proteins from Xanthomonas provides an alternative to ZFPs. Here we describe chimeric TALE recombinases (TALERs): engineered fusions between a hyperactivated catalytic domain from the DNA invertase Gin and an optimized TALE architecture. We use a library of incrementally truncated TALE variants to identify TALER fusions that modify DNA with efficiency and specificity comparable to zinc-finger recombinases in bacterial cells. We also show that TALERs recombine DNA in mammalian cells. The TALER architecture described herein provides a platform for insertion of customized TALE domains...

Gene targeting to the ROSA26 locus directed by engineered zinc finger nucleases
Perez-Pinera, P; Ousterout, DG; Brown, MT; Gersbach, CA
Nucleic Acids Res. (2012) 40 (8): 3741-3752
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Targeted gene addition to mammalian genomes is central to biotechnology, basic research and gene therapy. For example, gene targeting to the ROSA26 locus by homologous recombination in embryonic stem cells is commonly used for mouse transgenesis to achieve ubiquitous and persistent transgene expression. However, conventional methods are not readily adaptable to gene targeting in other cell types. The emerging zinc finger nuclease (ZFN) technology facilitates gene targeting in diverse species and cell types, but an optimal strategy for engineering highly active ZFNs is still unclear. We used a modular assembly approach to build ZFNs that target the ROSA26 locus. ZFN activity was dependent on the number of modules in each zinc finger array. The ZFNs were active in a variety of cell types in a time- and dose-dependent manner. The ZFNs directed gene addition to the ROSA26 locus, which enhanced the level of sustained gene expression, the uniformity of gene expression within clonal cell populations and the reproducibility of gene expression between clones. These ZFNs are a promising resource for cell engineering, mouse transgenesis and pre-clinical gene therapy studies...

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