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  1. null (Ed.)
    The rapid diversification of synthetic biology tools holds promise in making some classically hard-to-solve environmental problems tractable. Here we review longstanding problems in the Earth and environmental sciences that could be addressed using engineered microbes as micron-scale sensors (biosensors). Biosensors can offer new perspectives on open questions, including understanding microbial behaviors in heterogeneous matrices like soils, sediments, and wastewater systems, tracking cryptic element cycling in the Earth system, and establishing the dynamics of microbe-microbe, microbe-plant, and microbe-material interactions. Before these new tools can reach their potential, however, a suite of biological parts and microbial chassis appropriate for environmental conditions must be developed by the synthetic biology community. This includes diversifying sensing modules to obtain information relevant to environmental questions, creating output signals that allow dynamic reporting from hard-to-image environmental materials, and tuning these sensors so that they reliably function long enough to be useful for environmental studies. Finally, ethical questions related to the use of synthetic biosensors in environmental applications are discussed. 
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  2. Abstract

    Ribo-T is a ribosome with covalently tethered subunits where core 16S and 23S ribosomal RNAs form a single chimeric molecule. Ribo-T makes possible a functionally orthogonal ribosome–mRNA system in cells. Unfortunately, use of Ribo-T has been limited because of low activity of its original version. Here, to overcome this limitation, we use an evolutionary approach to select new tether designs that are capable of supporting faster cell growth and increased protein expression. Further, we evolve new orthogonal Ribo-T/mRNA pairs that function in parallel with, but independent of, natural ribosomes and mRNAs, increasing the efficiency of orthogonal protein expression. The Ribo-T with optimized designs is able to synthesize a diverse set of proteins, and can also incorporate multiple non-canonical amino acids into synthesized polypeptides. The enhanced Ribo-T designs should be useful for exploring poorly understood functions of the ribosome and engineering ribosomes with altered catalytic properties.

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