Benedikt Klauser and Jörg S. Hartig
"An important requirement for achieving many goals of synthetic biology is the availability of a large repertoire of reprogrammable genetic switches and appropriate transmitter molecules. In addition to engineering genetic switches, the interconnection of individual switches becomes increasingly important for the construction of more complex genetic networks. In particular, RNA-based switches of gene expression have become a powerful tool to post-transcriptionally program genetic circuits. RNAs used for regulatory purposes have the advantage to transmit, sense, process and execute information. We have recently used the hammerhead ribozyme to control translation initiation in a small molecule-dependent fashion. In addition, riboregulators have been constructed in which a small RNA acts as transmitter molecule to control translation of a target mRNA. In this study, we combine both concepts and redesign the hammerhead ribozyme to sense small trans-acting RNAs (taRNAs) as input molecules resulting in repression of translation initiation in Escherichia coli. Importantly, our ribozyme-based expression platform is compatible with previously reported artificial taRNAs, which were reported to act as inducers of gene expression. In addition, we provide several insights into key requirements of riboregulatory systems, including the influences of varying transcriptional induction of the taRNA and mRNA transcripts, 5′-processing of taRNAs, as well as altering the secondary structure of the taRNA. In conclusion, we introduce an RNA-responsive ribozyme-based expression system to the field of artificial riboregulators that can serve as reprogrammable platform for engineering higher-order genetic circuits."