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  1. Abstract Background

    Efficient cell-free protein expression from linear DNA templates has remained a challenge primarily due to template degradation. In addition, the yields of transcription in cell-free systems lag behind transcriptional efficiency of live cells. Most commonly used in vitro translation systems utilize T7 RNA polymerase, which is also the enzyme included in many commercial kits.


    Here we present characterization of a variant of T7 RNA polymerase promoter that acts to significantly increase the yields of gene expression withinin vitrosystems. We have demonstrated that T7Max increases the yield of translation in many types of commonly used in vitro protein expression systems. We also demonstrated increased protein expression yields from linear templates, allowing the use of T7Max driven expression from linear templates.


    The modified promoter, termed T7Max, recruits standard T7 RNA polymerase, so no protein engineering is needed to take advantage of this method. This technique could be used with any T7 RNA polymerase- basedin vitroprotein expression system.

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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available December 1, 2024
  2. Abstract

    Possessing only essential genes, a minimal cell can reveal mechanisms and processes that are critical for the persistence and stability of life1,2. Here we report on how an engineered minimal cell3,4contends with the forces of evolution compared with theMycoplasma mycoidesnon-minimal cell from which it was synthetically derived. Mutation rates were the highest among all reported bacteria, but were not affected by genome minimization. Genome streamlining was costly, leading to a decrease in fitness of greater than 50%, but this deficit was regained during 2,000 generations of evolution. Despite selection acting on distinct genetic targets, increases in the maximum growth rate of the synthetic cells were comparable. Moreover, when performance was assessed by relative fitness, the minimal cell evolved 39% faster than the non-minimal cell. The only apparent constraint involved the evolution of cell size. The size of the non-minimal cell increased by 80%, whereas the minimal cell remained the same. This pattern reflected epistatic effects of mutations inftsZ, which encodes a tubulin-homologue protein that regulates cell division and morphology5,6. Our findings demonstrate that natural selection can rapidly increase the fitness of one of the simplest autonomously growing organisms. Understanding how species with small genomes overcome evolutionary challenges provides critical insights into the persistence of host-associated endosymbionts, the stability of streamlined chassis for biotechnology and the targeted refinement of synthetically engineered cells2,7–9.

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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available August 3, 2024
  3. Abstract

    Synthetic cells are engineered vesicles that can mimic one or more salient features of life. These features include directed localization, sense‐and‐respond behavior, gene expression, metabolism, and high stability. In nanomedicine, many of these features are desirable capabilities of drug delivery vehicles but are difficult to engineer. In this focus article, we discuss where synthetic cells offer unique advantages over nanoparticle and living cell therapies. We review progress in the engineering of the above life‐like behaviors and how they are deployed in nanomedicine. Finally, we assess key challenges synthetic cells face before being deployed as drugs and suggest ways to overcome these challenges.

    This article is categorized under:

    Therapeutic Approaches and Drug Discovery > Emerging Technologies

    Biology‐Inspired Nanomaterials > Lipid‐Based Structures

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  4. Significance

    Known examples of life all share the same core biochemistry going back to the last universal common ancestor (LUCA), but whether this feature is universal to other examples, including at the origin of life or alien life, is unknown. We show how a physics-inspired statistical approach identifies universal scaling laws across biochemical reactions that are not defined by common chemical components but instead, as macroscale patterns in the reaction functions used by life. The identified scaling relations can be used to predict statistical features of LUCA, and network analyses reveal some of the functional principles that underlie them. They are, therefore, prime candidates for developing new theory on the “laws of life” that might apply to all possible biochemistries.

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  5. Abstract

    Cell-free expression (CFE) systems are one of the main platforms for building synthetic cells. A major drawback is the orthogonality of cell-free systems across species. To generate a CFE system compatible with recently established minimal cell constructs, we attempted to optimize a Mycoplasma bacterium-based CFE system using lysates of the genome-minimized cell JCVI-syn3A (Syn3A) and its close phylogenetic relative Mycoplasma capricolum (Mcap). To produce mycoplasma-derived crude lysates, we systematically tested methods commonly used for bacteria, based on the S30 protocol of Escherichia coli. Unexpectedly, after numerous attempts to optimize lysate production methods or composition of feeding buffer, none of the Mcap or Syn3A lysates supported cell-free gene expression. Only modest levels of in vitro transcription of RNA aptamers were observed. While our experimental systems were intended to perform transcription and translation, our assays focused on RNA. Further investigations identified persistently high ribonuclease (RNase) activity in all lysates, despite removal of recognizable nucleases from the respective genomes and attempts to inhibit nuclease activities in assorted CFE preparations. An alternative method using digitonin to permeabilize the mycoplasma cell membrane produced a lysate with diminished RNase activity yet still was unable to support cell-free gene expression. We found that intact mycoplasma cells poisoned E. coli cell-free extracts by degrading ribosomal RNAs, indicating that the mycoplasma cells, even the minimal cell, have a surface-associated RNase activity. However, it is not clear which gene encodes the RNase. This work summarizes attempts to produce mycoplasma-based CFE and serves as a cautionary tale for researchers entering this field.

    Graphical Abstract


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  6. The bacterial strain JCVI-syn3.0 stands as the first example of a living organism with a minimized synthetic genome, derived from the Mycoplasma mycoides genome and chemically synthesized in vitro. Here, we report the experimental evolution of a syn3.0- derived strain. Ten independent replicates were evolved for several hundred generations, leading to growth rate improvements of > 15%. Endpoint strains possessed an average of 8 mutations composed of indels and SNPs, with a pronounced C/G- > A/T transversion bias. Multiple genes were repeated mutational targets across the independent lineages, including phase variable lipoprotein activation, 5 distinct; nonsynonymous substitutions in the same membrane transporter protein, and inactivation of an uncharacterized gene. Transcriptomic analysis revealed an overall tradeoff reflected in upregulated ribosomal proteins and downregulated DNA and RNA related proteins during adaptation. This work establishes the suitability of synthetic, minimal strains for laboratory evolution, providing a means to optimize strain growth characteristics and elucidate gene functionality. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available September 1, 2024
  7. Recently, a new subset of fluorescent proteins has been identified from the Aequorea species of jellyfish. These fluorescent proteins were characterized in vivo; however, there has not been validation of these proteins within cell-free systems. Cell-free systems and technology development is a rapidly expanding field, encompassing foundational research, synthetic cells, bioengineering, biomanufacturing, and drug development. Cell-free systems rely heavily on fluorescent proteins as reporters. Here we characterize and validate this new set of Aequorea proteins for use in a variety of cell-free and synthetic cell expression platforms. 
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  8. As the centerpiece of the biomass production process, ribosome activity is highly coordinated with environmental cues. Findings revealing ribosome subgroups responsive to adverse conditions suggest this tight coordination may be grounded in the induction of variant ribosome compositions and the differential translation outcomes they might produce. In this perspective, we go through the literature linking ribosome heterogeneity to plants’ abiotic stress response. Once unraveled, this crosstalk may serve as the foundation of novel strategies to custom cultivars tolerant to challenging environments without the yield penalty. 
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