The mammalian gut is a dynamic community of symbiotic microbes that interact with the host to impact health, disease, and metabolism. We constructed engineered bacteria that survive in the mammalian gut and sense, remember, and report on their experiences. Based on previous genetic memory systems, we constructed a two-part system with a “trigger element” in which the lambda Cro gene is transcribed from a tetracycline-inducible promoter, and a “memory element” derived from the cI/Cro region of phage lambda. The memory element has an extremely stable cI state and a Cro state that is stable for many cell divisions. When Escherichia coli bearing the memory system are administered to mice treated with anhydrotetracycline, the recovered bacteria all have switched to the Cro state, whereas those administered to untreated mice remain in the cI state. The trigger and memory elements were transferred from E. coli K12 to a newly isolated murine E. coli strain; the stability and switching properties of the memory element were essentially identical in vitro and during passage through mice, but the engineered murine E. coli was more stably established in the mouse gut. This work lays a foundation for the use of synthetic genetic circuits as monitoring systems in complex, ill-defined environments, and may lead to the development of living diagnostics and therapeutics.
Synthetic biology, despite still being in its infancy, is increasingly providing valuable information for applications in the clinic, the biotechnology industry and in basic molecular research. Both its unique potential and the challenges it presents have brought together the expertise of an eclectic group of scientists, from cell biologists to engineers. In this Viewpoint article, five experts discuss their views on the future of synthetic biology, on its main achievements in basic and applied science, and on the bioethical issues that are associated with the design of new biological systems.
Monkeys serve as important model species for studying human diseases and developing therapeutic strategies, yet the application of monkeys in biomedical researches has been significantly hindered by the difficulties in producing animals genetically modified at the desired target sites. Here, we first applied the CRISPR/Cas9 system, a versatile tool for editing the genes of different organisms, to target monkey genomes. By coinjection of Cas9 mRNA and sgRNAs into one-cell-stage embryos, we successfully achieve precise gene targeting in cynomolgus monkeys. We also show that this system enables simultaneous disruption of two target genes (Ppar-γ and Rag1) in one step, and no off-target mutagenesis was detected by comprehensive analysis. Thus, coinjection of one-cell-stage embryos with Cas9 mRNA and sgRNAs is an efficient and reliable approach for gene-modified cynomolgus monkey generation.
Currently, for genomic editing in cultured cells, two plasmids encoding a pair of TALENs are co-transfected, followed by limited dilution to isolate cell colonies with the intended genomic manipulation. However, uncertain transfection efficiency becomes a bottleneck, especially in hard-to-transfect cells, reducing the overall efficiency of genome editing. We have developed a robust TALENs system in which each TALEN plasmid also encodes a fluorescence protein. Thus, cells transfected with both TALEN plasmids, a prerequisite for genomic editing, can be isolated by fluorescence-activated cell sorting. Our improved TALENs system can be applied to all cultured cells to achieve highly efficient genomic editing. Furthermore, an optimized procedure for genomic editing using TALENs is also presented. We expect our system to be widely adopted by the scientific community.
The bacterial clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR)–Cas9 system for genome editing has greatly expanded the toolbox for mammalian genetics, enabling the rapid generation of isogenic cell lines and mice with modified alleles. Here, we describe a pooled, loss-of-function genetic screening approach suitable for both positive and negative selection that uses a genome-scale lentiviral single-guide RNA (sgRNA) library. sgRNA expression cassettes were stably integrated into the genome, which enabled a complex mutant pool to be tracked by massively parallel sequencing. We used a library containing 73,000 sgRNAs to generate knockout collections and performed screens in two human cell lines. A screen for resistance to the nucleotide analog 6-thioguanine identified all expected members of the DNA mismatch repair pathway, whereas another for the DNA topoisomerase II (TOP2A) poison etoposide identified TOP2A, as expected, and also cyclin-dependent kinase 6, CDK6. A negative selection screen for essential genes identified numerous gene sets corresponding to fundamental processes. Last, we show that sgRNA efficiency is associated with specific sequence motifs, enabling the prediction of more effective sgRNAs. Collectively, these results establish Cas9/sgRNA screens as a powerful tool for systematic genetic analysis in mammalian cells.
Another paper, which describes using CRISPR-Cas for human cell screening!
We propose a bacteria-based microrobot (bacteriobot) based on a new fusion paradigm for theranostic activities against solid tumors. We develop a bacteriobot using the strong attachment of bacteria to Cy5.5-coated polystyrene microbeads due to the high-affinity interaction between biotin and streptavidin. The chemotactic responses of the bacteria and the bacteriobots to the concentration gradients of lysates or spheroids of solid tumors can be detected as the migration of the bacteria and/or the bacteriobots out of the central region toward the side regions in a chemotactic microfluidic chamber. The bacteriobots showed higher migration velocity toward tumor cell lysates or spheroids than toward normal cells. In addition, when only the bacteriobots were injected to the CT-26 tumor mouse model, Cy5.5 signal was detected from the tumor site of the mouse model. In-vitroand in-vivo tests verified that the bacteriobots had chemotactic motility and tumor targeting ability. The new microrobot paradigm in which bacteria act as microactuators and microsensors to deliver microstructures to tumors can be considered a new theranostic methodology for targeting and treating solid tumors.
The spatiotemporal organization and dynamics of chromatin play critical roles in regulating genome function. However, visualizing specific, endogenous genomic loci remains challenging in living cells. Here, we demonstrate such an imaging technique by repurposing the bacterial CRISPR/Cas system. Using an EGFP-tagged endonuclease-deficient Cas9 protein and a structurally optimized small guide (sg) RNA, we show robust imaging of repetitive elements in telomeres and coding genes in living cells. Furthermore, an array of sgRNAs tiling along the target locus enables the visualization of nonrepetitive genomic sequences. Using this method, we have studied telomere dynamics during elongation or disruption, the subnuclear localization of the MUC4 loci, the cohesion of replicated MUC4 loci on sister chromatids, and their dynamic behaviors during mitosis. This CRISPR imaging tool has potential to significantly improve the capacity to study the conformation and dynamics of native chromosomes in living human cells.
Although emerging evidence suggests that transposable elements (TEs) have contributed novel regulatory elements to the human genome, their global impact on transcriptional networks remains largely uncharacterized. Here we show that TEs have contributed to the human genome nearly half of its active elements. Using DNase I hypersensitivity data sets from ENCODE in normal, embryonic, and cancer cells, we found that 44% of open chromatin regions were in TEs and that this proportion reached 63% for primate-specific regions. We also showed that distinct subfamilies of endogenous retroviruses (ERVs) contributed significantly more accessible regions than expected by chance, with up to 80% of their instances in open chromatin. Based on these results, we further characterized 2,150 TE subfamily–transcription factor pairs that were bound in vivo or enriched for specific binding motifs, and observed that TEs contributing to open chromatin had higher levels of sequence conservation. We also showed that thousands of ERV–derived sequences were activated in a cell type–specific manner, especially in embryonic and cancer cells, and we demonstrated that this activity was associated with cell type–specific expression of neighboring genes. Taken together, these results demonstrate that TEs, and in particular ERVs, have contributed hundreds of thousands of novel regulatory elements to the primate lineage and reshaped the human transcriptional landscape.
Increased nut consumption has been associated with a reduced risk of major chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes mellitus. However, the association between nut consumption and mortality remains unclear.
During 3,038,853 person-years of follow-up, 16,200 women and 11,229 men died. Nut consumption was inversely associated with total mortality among both women and men, after adjustment for other known or suspected risk factors. The pooled multivariate hazard ratios for death among participants who ate nuts, as compared with those who did not, were 0.93 (95% confidence interval [CI], 0.90 to 0.96) for the consumption of nuts less than once per week, 0.89 (95% CI, 0.86 to 0.93) for once per week, 0.87 (95% CI, 0.83 to 0.90) for two to four times per week, 0.85 (95% CI, 0.79 to 0.91) for five or six times per week, and 0.80 (95% CI, 0.73 to 0.86) for seven or more times per week (P<0.001 for trend). Significant inverse associations were also observed between nut consumption and deaths due to cancer, heart disease, and respiratory disease.
Small regulatory RNAs (sRNAs) regulate gene expression in bacteria. We designed synthetic sRNAs to identify and modulate the expression of target genes for metabolic engineering in Escherichia coli. Using synthetic sRNAs for the combinatorial knockdown of four candidate genes in 14 different strains, we isolated an engineered E. coli strain (tyrR- and csrA-repressed S17-1) capable of producing 2 g per liter of tyrosine. Using a library of 130 synthetic sRNAs, we also identified chromosomal gene targets that enabled substantial increases in cadaverine production. Repression of murE led to a 55% increase in cadaverine production compared to the reported engineered strain (XQ56 harboring the plasmid p15CadA)1. The design principles and the engineering strategy using synthetic sRNAs reported here are generalizable to other bacteria and applicable in developing superior producer strains. The ability to fine-tune target genes with designed sRNAs provides substantial advantages over gene-knockout strategies and other large-scale target identification strategies owing to its easy implementation, ability to modulate chromosomal gene expression without modifying those genes and because it does not require construction of strain libraries.
The clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR)-CRISPR-associated (Cas) system has recently been used to engineer genomes of various organisms, but surprisingly, not those of bacteriophages (phages). Here we present a method to genetically engineer the Escherichia coli phage T7 using the type I-E CRISPR-Cas system. T7 phage genome is edited by homologous recombination with a DNA sequence flanked by sequences homologous to the desired location. Non-edited genomes are targeted by the CRISPR-Cas system, thus enabling isolation of the desired recombinant phages. This method broadens CRISPR Cas-based editing to phages and uses a CRISPR-Cas type other than type II. The method may be adjusted to genetically engineer any bacteriophage genome.
The EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Synthetic Biology will combine world-leading expertise in engineering and the physical and life sciences at the Universities of Oxford, Bristol and Warwick to create the next generation of industrial and academic leaders in the important new field of synthetic biology.
A central challenge in microbial community ecology is the delineation of appropriate units of biodiversity, which can be taxonomic, phylogenetic, or functional in nature. The term ‘community’ is applied ambiguously; in some cases, the term refers simply to a set of observed entities, while in other cases, it requires that these entities interact with one another. Microorganisms can rapidly gain and lose genes, potentially decoupling community roles from taxonomic and phylogenetic groupings. Trait-based approaches offer a useful alternative, but many traits can be defined based on gene functions, metabolic modules, and genomic properties, and the optimal set of traits to choose is often not obvious. An analysis that considers taxon assignment and traits in concert may be ideal, with the strengths of each approach offsetting the weaknesses of the other. Individual genes also merit consideration as entities in an ecological analysis, with characteristics such as diversity, turnover, and interactions modeled using genes rather than organisms as entities. We identify some promising avenues of research that are likely to yield a deeper understanding of microbial communities that shift from observation-based questions of ‘Who is there?’ and ‘What are they doing?’ to the mechanistically driven question of ‘How will they respond?’
Neurodevelopmental disorders, including autism spectrum disorder (ASD), are defined by core behavioral impairments; however, subsets of individuals display a spectrum of gastrointestinal (GI) abnormalities. We demonstrate GI barrier defects and microbiota alterations in the maternal immune activation (MIA) mouse model that is known to display features of ASD. Oral treatment of MIA offspring with the human commensalBacteroides fragilis corrects gut permeability, alters microbial composition, and ameliorates defects in communicative, stereotypic, anxiety-like and sensorimotor behaviors. MIA offspring display an altered serum metabolomic profile, and B. fragilis modulates levels of several metabolites. Treating naive mice with a metabolite that is increased by MIA and restored by B. fragilis causes certain behavioral abnormalities, suggesting that gut bacterial effects on the host metabolome impact behavior. Taken together, these findings support a gut-microbiome-brain connection in a mouse model of ASD and identify a potential probiotic therapy for GI and particular behavioral symptoms in human neurodevelopmental disorders.
Bacterial Type III Secretion Systems deliver effectors into host cells to manipulate cellular processes to the advantage of the pathogen. Many host targets of these effectors are found on membranes. Therefore, to identify their targets, effectors often use specialized membrane-localization domains to localize to appropriate host membranes. However, the molecular mechanisms used by many domains are unknown. Here we identify a conserved bacterial phosphoinositide-binding domain (BPD) that is found in functionally diverse Type III effectors of both plant and animal pathogens. We show that members of the BPD family functionally bind phosphoinositides and mediate localization to host membranes. Moreover, NMR studies reveal that the BPD of the newly identified Vibrio parahaemolyticus Type III effector VopR is unfolded in solution, but folds into a specific structure upon binding its ligand phosphatidylinositol-(4,5)-bisphosphate. Thus, our findings suggest a possible mechanism for promoting refolding of Type III effectors after delivery into host cells.
The simplicity of programming the CRISPR-associated nuclease Cas9 to modify specific genomic loci suggests a new way to interrogate gene function on a genome-wide scale. We show that lentiviral delivery of a genome-scale CRISPR-Cas9 knockout (GeCKO) library targeting 18,080 genes with 64,751 unique guide sequences enables both negative and positive selection screening in human cells. First, we used the GeCKO library to identify genes essential for cell viability in cancer and pluripotent stem cells. Next, in a melanoma model, we screened for genes whose loss is involved in resistance to vemurafenib, a therapeutic that inhibits mutant protein kinase BRAF. Our highest-ranking candidates include previously validated genes NF1 andMED12 as well as novel hits NF2, CUL3, TADA2B, and TADA1. We observe a high level of consistency between independent guide RNAs targeting the same gene and a high rate of hit confirmation, demonstrating the promise of genome-scale screening with Cas9.
Single murine and human intestinal stem cells can be expanded in culture over long time periods as genetically and phenotypically stable epithelial organoids. Increased cAMP levels induce rapid swelling of such organoids by opening the cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductor receptor (CFTR). This response is lost in organoids derived from cystic fibrosis (CF) patients. Here we use the CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing system to correct the CFTR locus by homologous recombination in cultured intestinal stem cells of CF patients. The corrected allele is expressed and fully functional as measured in clonally expanded organoids. This study provides proof of concept for gene correction by homologous recombination in primary adult stem cells derived from patients with a single-gene hereditary defect.