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  1. Cell-free expression systems (CFEs) are cutting-edge research tools used in the investigation of biological phenomena and the engineering of novel biotechnologies. While CFEs have many benefits over in vivo protein synthesis, one particularly significant advantage is that CFEs allow for gene expression from both plasmid DNA and linear expression templates (LETs). This is an important and impactful advantage because functional LETs can be efficiently synthesized in vitro in a few hours without transformation and cloning, thus expediting genetic circuit prototyping and allowing expression of toxic genes that would be difficult to clone through standard approaches. However, native nucleases present in the crude bacterial lysate (the basis for the most affordable form of CFEs) quickly degrade LETs and limit expression yield. Motivated by the significant benefits of using LETs in lieu of plasmid templates, numerous methods to enhance their stability in lysate-based CFEs have been developed. This review describes approaches to LET stabilization used in CFEs, summarizes the advancements that have come from using LETs with these methods, and identifies future applications and development goals that are likely to be impactful to the field. Collectively, continued improvement of LET-based expression and other linear DNA tools in CFEs will help drive scientific discovery and enable a wide range of applications, from diagnostics to synthetic biology research tools. 
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  2. Abstract Background

    The topology of metabolic networks is both well-studied and remarkably well-conserved across many species. The regulation of these networks, however, is much more poorly characterized, though it is known to be divergent across organisms—two characteristics that make it difficult to model metabolic networks accurately. While many computational methods have been built to unravel transcriptional regulation, there have been few approaches developed for systems-scale analysis and study of metabolic regulation. Here, we present a stepwise machine learning framework that applies established algorithms to identify regulatory interactions in metabolic systems based on metabolic data: stepwise classification of unknown regulation, or SCOUR.


    We evaluated our framework on both noiseless and noisy data, using several models of varying sizes and topologies to show that our approach is generalizable. We found that, when testing on data under the most realistic conditions (low sampling frequency and high noise), SCOUR could identify reaction fluxes controlled only by the concentration of a single metabolite (its primary substrate) with high accuracy. The positive predictive value (PPV) for identifying reactions controlled by the concentration of two metabolites ranged from 32 to 88% for noiseless data, 9.2 to 49% for either low sampling frequency/low noise or high sampling frequency/high noise data, and 6.6–27% for low sampling frequency/high noise data, with results typically sufficiently high for lab validation to be a practical endeavor. While the PPVs for reactions controlled by three metabolites were lower, they were still in most cases significantly better than random classification.


    SCOUR uses a novel approach to synthetically generate the training data needed to identify regulators of reaction fluxes in a given metabolic system, enabling metabolomics and fluxomics data to be leveraged for regulatory structure inference. By identifying and triaging the most likely candidate regulatory interactions, SCOUR can drastically reduce the amount of time needed to identify and experimentally validate metabolic regulatory interactions. As high-throughput experimental methods for testing these interactions are further developed, SCOUR will provide critical impact in the development of predictive metabolic models in new organisms and pathways.

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  3. Abstract

    Bacterial biosensors can enable programmable, selective chemical production, but difficulties incorporating metabolic pathways into complex sensor circuits have limited their development and applications. Here we overcome these challenges and present the development of fast-responding, tunable sensor cells that produce different pigmented metabolites based on extracellular concentrations of zinc (a critical micronutrient). We create a library of dual-input synthetic promoters that decouple cell growth from zinc-specific metabolite production, enabling visible cell coloration within 4 h. Using additional transcriptional and metabolic control methods, we shift the response thresholds by an order of magnitude to measure clinically relevant zinc concentrations. The resulting sensor cells report zinc concentrations in individual donor serum samples; we demonstrate that they can provide results in a minimal-equipment fashion, serving as the basis for a field-deployable assay for zinc deficiency. The presented advances are likely generalizable to the creation of other types of sensors and diagnostics.

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