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  1. SWEETs are transporters with homologs in Archeae, plants, some fungi, and animals. As the only transporters known to facilitate the cellular release of sugars in plants, SWEETs play critical roles in the allocation of sugars from photosynthetic leaves to storage tissues in seeds, fruits, and tubers. Here, we report the design and use of genetically encoded biosensors to measure the activity of SWEETs. We created a SweetTrac1 sensor by inserting a circularly permutated green fluorescent protein into the Arabidopsis SWEET1, resulting in a chimera that translates substrate binding during the transport cycle into detectable changes in fluorescence intensity. We demonstrate that a combination of cell sorting and bioinformatics can accelerate the design of biosensors and formulate a mass action kinetics model to correlate the fluorescence response of SweetTrac1 with the transport of glucose. Our analysis suggests that SWEETs are low-affinity, symmetric transporters that can rapidly equilibrate intra- and extracellular concentrations of sugars. This approach can be extended to SWEET homologs and other transporters.
  2. We recently described a series of genetically encoded, single-fluorophore-based sensors, termed AmTrac and MepTrac, which monitor membrane transporter activity in vivo (De Michele et al., 2013). However, being intensiometric, AmTrac and Meptrac are limited in their use for quantitative studies. Here, we characterized the photophysical properties (steady-state and time-resolved fluorescence spectroscopy as well as anisotropy decay analysis) of different AmTrac sensors with diverging fluorescence properties in order to generate improved, ratiometric sensors. By replacing key amino acid residues in AmTrac we constructed a set of dual-emission AmTrac sensors named deAmTracs. deAmTracs show opposing changes of blue and green emission with almost doubled emission ratio upon ammonium addition. The response ratio of the deAmTracs correlated with transport activity in mutants with altered capacity. Our results suggest that partial disruption of distance-dependent excited-state proton transfer is important for the successful generation of single-fluorophore-based dual-emission sensors.