Engineered dCas9 with reduced toxicity in bacteria: implications for genetic circuit design
Author(s)Zhang, Shuyi; Voigt, Christopher A.
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Large synthetic genetic circuits require the simultaneous expression of many regulators. Deactivated Cas9 (dCas9) can serve as a repressor by having a small guide RNA (sgRNA) direct it to bind a promoter. The programmability and specificity of RNA:DNA basepairing simplifies the generation of many orthogonal sgRNAs that, in theory, could serve as a large set of regulators in a circuit. However, dCas9 is toxic in many bacteria, thus limiting how high it can be expressed, and low concentrations are quickly sequestered by multiple sgRNAs. Here, we construct a non-toxic version of dCas9 by eliminating PAM (protospacer adjacent motif) binding with a R1335K mutation (dCas9*) and recovering DNA binding by fusing it to the PhlF repressor (dCas9*_PhlF). Both the 30 bp PhlF operator and 20 bp sgRNA binding site are required to repress a promoter. The larger region required for recognition mitigates toxicity in Escherichia coli, allowing up to 9600 ± 800 molecules of dCas9*_PhlF per cell before growth or morphology are impacted, as compared to 530 ± 40 molecules of dCas9. Further, PhlF multimerization leads to an increase in average cooperativity from n = 0.9 (dCas9) to 1.6 (dCas9*_PhlF). A set of 30 orthogonal sgRNA-promoter pairs are characterized as NOT gates; however, the simultaneous use of multiple sgRNAs leads to a monotonic decline in repression and after 15 are co-expressed the dynamic range is <10-fold. This work introduces a non-toxic variant of dCas9, critical for its use in applications in metabolic engineering and synthetic biology, and exposes a limitation in the number of regulators that can be used in one cell when they rely on a shared resource.
DepartmentMassachusetts Institute of Technology. Department of Biological Engineering
Nucleic Acids Research
Oxford University Press
Zhang, Shuyi, and Christopher A Voigt. “Engineered dCas9 with Reduced Toxicity in Bacteria: Implications for Genetic Circuit Design.” Nucleic Acids Research (October 5, 2018).
Final published version