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Genes Dev. 2011 Mar 1;25(5):434-9. doi: 10.1101/gad.1994911.

Synthetic circuit identifies subpopulations with sustained memory of DNA damage.

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  • 1Department of Systems Biology, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, USA.


Differential responses to stimuli can affect how cells succumb to disease. In yeast, DNA damage can create heterogeneous responses. To delineate how a response contributes to a cell's future behavior, we constructed a transcription-based memory circuit that detects DNA repair to isolate subpopulations with heritable damage responses. Strongly responsive cells show multigenerational effects, including growth defects and iron-associated gene expression. Less-responsive cells exhibit increased mutation frequencies but resume wild-type behavior. These two subpopulations remain distinct for multiple generations, indicating a transmissible memory of damage. Collectively, this work demonstrates the efficacy of using synthetic biology to define how environmental exposure contributes to distinct cell fates.

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