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PLoS One. 2011 Jan 21;6(1):e16274. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0016274.

Computational design of auxotrophy-dependent microbial biosensors for combinatorial metabolic engineering experiments.

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Department of Computer Science, Technion-IIT, Haifa, Israel.


Combinatorial approaches in metabolic engineering work by generating genetic diversity in a microbial population followed by screening for strains with improved phenotypes. One of the most common goals in this field is the generation of a high rate chemical producing strain. A major hurdle with this approach is that many chemicals do not have easy to recognize attributes, making their screening expensive and time consuming. To address this problem, it was previously suggested to use microbial biosensors to facilitate the detection and quantification of chemicals of interest. Here, we present novel computational methods to: (i) rationally design microbial biosensors for chemicals of interest based on substrate auxotrophy that would enable their high-throughput screening; (ii) predict engineering strategies for coupling the synthesis of a chemical of interest with the production of a proxy metabolite for which high-throughput screening is possible via a designed bio-sensor. The biosensor design method is validated based on known genetic modifications in an array of E. coli strains auxotrophic to various amino-acids. Predicted chemical production rates achievable via the biosensor-based approach are shown to potentially improve upon those predicted by current rational strain design approaches. (A Matlab implementation of the biosensor design method is available via

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